How to become US President: smile, stay away from specifics
Deaglán de Bréadún
It looks like John McCain’s intervention in the bailout crisis – when he suspended his campaign and made a dash to Washington - hasn’t had the desired effect. Latest opinion poll evidence shows Obama ahead by eight points. Sometimes in politics masterly inactivity is the best approach.
In fact, Obama has a very good line in looking good, smiling broadly (he has a marvellous warm smile, a great advantage in American or indeed any politics) and not saying anything very specific. His candidacy is in some ways a cultural rather than political phenomenon.
Firstly, given the state of the economy and the whole subprime-bailout mess, any candidate for the Democrats has a natural advantage. You can get votes just by being there.
Secondly, entering into specifics might win over one constituency but it will alienate another. Keep on keeping on and talking in vague generalities. It’s about winning and, as broadcaster George Hook said in his private briefing (well, it was supposed to be private until we journos heard about it) to the recent Fine Gael think-in, coming second is irrelevant. Sorry if it sounds cynical but these are the hard facts of political life.
The appeal of Obama is that he is a new face with a new style. He gives us to understand that he would be more conciliatory than his predecessor in international affairs. The assumption is there would be no more adventures like the Iraq invasion.
As with JFK, if Obama wins it will be said that “the torch has been passed to a new generation”. But every political leader has to contend with what Macmillan called “events, dear boy” and it was Kennedy who got the US embroiled in Vietnam. And who would have thought Blair would be the one to get Britain caught up in the former Mesopotamia again?
A friend of mine who was recently in Iraq reports that the country is settling down. The “surge” seems to have worked. But at what cost. One would still find it very hard to argue that the invasion was justified in the first place. Sure, it would be painful for the Americans to have to listen to loudmouth Saddam and see him strutting the stage if he were still around but was it worth all that blood and treasure to get rid of him?
The enthusiasm for Obama in Ireland is almost universal, stretching from the right in the form of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to the near-left in the Labour Party and the Greens, not to mention innumerable dinner-parties in South Dublin and other parts.
The Democrats have suggested that US firms opting to set up in places like Ireland which offer low corporate tax rates should be penalised because of the consequent job-losses back home. Speaking on RTE’s Questions and Answers, US Ambassador Thomas Foley said this was unlikely but, if it did, the effect could be “dramatic”. It also looks as if McCain would be better for the undocumented Irish in the US, judging from the comments of lobbyist Ciarán Staunton.
Apart from Iraq — where the disagreement is becoming more and more historical — and abortion, there don’t seem to be any massive divergences of policy between the two candidates. No doubt the race will have further ups and downs before polling day and the result cannot be safely predicted as yet. Meanwhile, if you want a smile check out the Sarah Palin take-off on Saturday Night Live
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times