• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 10, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

    Let Freedom Ring

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    “From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”


    It was impossible in recent days not to be reminded of Martin Luther King’s great civil rights oration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on what must have been a sweltering day back in August 1963.

    Just as the Obama campaign has inspired millions all over the world, so too did the civil rights movement in its day catch the imagination of a whole generation. The Northern Ireland civil rights movement was inspired by it, although the ending of that story proved tragic in many respects.

    The distinguished historian Professor Joe Lee said on Raidió na Gaeltachta that the election of Daniel O’Connell as the first Catholic member of the House of Commons in 1828 had a similar significance to the choice of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

    Small wonder that Jesse Jackson was in tears. Dr King himself must be spinning blissfully in his grave, agog with wonderment, as the rest of us are, that part of his great dream has finally come true: a black man has been elected to the most powerful political office in the world. Abraham Lincoln, too, when nobody was watching, must have given a quiet nod of affirmation from his lofty throne in America’s capital city.

    Irish people, no less than others, were inspired by the whole thing. In a previous blog I lamented the virtual disappearance of oratory from the political scene in this country. Now we have a US President who is a supremely-skilled public speaker. Substance is more important than rhetoric, of course, but rhetoric has its place and its value. I can’t wait for Obama’s acceptance speech in January, which will no doubt be comparable to JFK’s unforgettable rallying-cry: “The torch has been passed to a new generation”.

    Suddenly politics is attractive again and seems like a noble pursuit. Alas, only in America. Here at home we had another report of another junior minister giving precedence to his own family in appointing his personal staff. How tawdry: this kind of thing should be illegal. Where is the Irish Obama to make that demand part of his or her political crusade?

    It’s only a matter of time, of course, before the first disillusioned Obama supporter accuses him of “selling out”. When you get down to specifics in foreign policy, for example, there isn’t a whole lot of difference with the current approach of the Bush administration, as academic Rory Miller pointed out in a detailed analysis in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post.

    But the tone is different. The problems he confronts are the same ones George W. Bush had to deal with, but he has the opportunity and hopefully also the capacity to rally a people behind him. At a time when America’s stock is low in many quarters around the globe, perhaps Barack Obama can restore its former reputation as a standard-bearer of liberty. Perhaps not: he could get stuck in a Vietnam-type quagmire in Afghanistan; there could be a dangerous stand-off with the Russians; terrorists could strike at the US in its period of transition. We don’t know what the future holds and, for all his grace and charisma, the new president is worryingly short on experience. Yet thanks to his election alone, despite all the prejudice and the doomsayers who spoke of “the Bradley effect” whereby whites paid lip-service to equality but took off the mask in the polling-booth, Barack Obama has changed the course of history and the future dreams of every child born into an ethnic or other minority. Yes he could and yes he did: let freedom ring.

    Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times

    • Betterworld Now says:

      My advice to Mr Obama is to take himself and his family off on a holiday for a few weeks and not give any media interviews. Now, if that beach was Cuban … we really would be talking “change”.

    • Rory Miller, not for the first time, gets the facts wrong about Iraq. Obama did not suggest that the surge alone was responsible for making Iraq a (slightly) more stable country. He said that the Anbar awakening played a major role. Miller made no mention of the million excess deaths and quotes Kurdish leader Zebari who wants the US troops to stay. Obama’s position reflects that of prime minister al-Maliki and a huge majority of Iraqis who want the occupation to end.

      Miller’s anti-muslim rhetoric is evident throughout his piece, especially when it comes to Iran, a country he has demonised in The Irish Times.

      Let us judge Barack Obama after 20th January when he becomes the 44th president of the United States of America.

    • robespierre says:

      It is worth pointing out that the decline of oratory has followed the rise of the soundbite. Blogging such as this is a continuation of political discourse by other means (to plunder the canon of Von Clausewitz).

      It is inconceivable nowadays that a callow youth of 24 could be made Justice Minister as was Des O’Malley. Yet his oratorical skills stood out at varying stages in his career. We should also ask ourselves what we mean by oratory. Is it the pastoral aspect (a lifting of the spirit and soul) or is it simply an elegant recital of words to match the choreography of living history?

      We also have the elegiac and elegant Senator Norris (a little plummy on occasion but always good value) and in a different way Pat Rabbitte was and remains a fine and nuanced speaker. Joe Higgins was certainly competent and brought gravity and levity to subjects along with a countervailing viewpoint that added richness to the texture of Dáil debates.

      I cannot think off the top of my head of any other speakers that I would stop to listen to. I think O’Dowd is a good communicator and Michael Twee a good blusterer when what is optimal is probably somewhere in between. Hectoring is not oratory.

      On the other hand, watching Cameron or Sarkozy speak one cannot but be impressed by their mental acuity across a wide range of subject-matter: a mental effervescence that seems to be beyond the vote fodder in Dáil Éireann.

      My personal view on this is that many of the politicians that I have met over the years are “of the people”. Whether deliberately or not, they seem to be exceedingly ill-read, with a very narrow cultural understanding and profoundly utilitarian in their grasp of and pursuit of office. Without an understanding of the aesthetic and an appreciation of history and culture beyond the political and the local I believe it is impossible to expect a ludo in our time. The truth is that most members of Dáil Éireann would, if asked who Socrates was, be unaware of scepticism and would more likely talk about how great the 1982 Brazil football team was. Especially if they were from Galway East and they wanted to hold onto the council seats in Gort. Parish pump rules.

    • Deaglán says:

      Not sure what you mean by “ludo”, Robespierre. Regarding the Rory Miller piece, which I thought was pretty objective, people might like to make up their own mind by clicking on the following link to read it: http://www.sbpost.ie/post/pages/p/story.aspx-qqqt=GUEST+WRITER-qqqm=nav-qqqid=37382-qqqx=1.asp

    • John says:

      The fact that two black people (Powell and Rice) were appointed to two of the most influential posts in the U.S. by the Republicans seems to have been coveniently overlooked in the media frenzy to paint Democrats as holders of supreme virtue. Then again it is easier and quite acceptable in Irish newspapers to demonise poor white people (“trailer-trash”, etc.)

    • David says:

      Miller’s piece is not as bad as could be expected, but it is by no means objective. It is thoroughly undermined by numerous fundamentally-flawed opinions masquerading as facts:

      He refers to Iranian ‘nuclear ambitions’, implying motivations on Iran’s part that the world’s intelligence agencies and the IAEA do not agree with.

      He refers to the surge as a ‘success’, not an ‘alleged success’ and fails to acknowledge it was an escalation. And according to recently-published research, it simply “helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighbourhood homogenization that is now largely achieved.”

      He describes the motivation of Bush (and Obama) in attacking Iraq and Afghanistan as a ‘warning to terrorists and their state sponsors’, completely obscuring the fact the Iraq war at any rate was largely about securing US interests (predominantly oil). Even Thomas Friedman and the saintly Alan Greenspan acknowledge as much.

      He describes the war in Afghanistan as one of ‘Afghanistan against al-Qaeda’, a view refuted by military commanders in the region who are asking that a negotiated settlement be sought there. The British military commander in Afghanistan, no less, acknowledged recently in The Irish Times that the Taliban is “a broad coalition rather than the uniform terrorist organisation portrayed in most military propaganda.”

    • robespierre says:

      My apologies Deaglán I meant the Lido, the Greek school system where oratory was taught by the likes of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle.

      Although on reflection, oratory is also something of a ludo or game – witness PMQ’s in the UK.

    • DHF5811 says:

      Obama will face the same issues as Bush only on a much larger scale. As an American who served in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, NATO’s unwillingness to support us in Afghanistan with full support has sent a signal to most Americans the time has come to remove American Forces from this failed organisation and force the EU to confront the rising Russians. Western Europe poses more of a threat to 21st Century America than Russia. I look to see major withdrawals of US Forces from Europe during the first four years of Obama. We spent more money maintaining manpower and bases in Europe then we do in Iraq, so why shouldn’t we began a withdrawal? Americans have listened for years to how much Europeans hate us and no longer need us, now we have our first post-Vietnam President who realises providing a huge, expensive security blanket for first world nations. Once the EU has to spend billions of euro on maintaining its own security, life will quickly change. On a sidenote, you all claim we Americans are racist rednecks. Well, 40% of all whites voted for Mr Obama and now we’re wondering when we’ll see a black European leader. Where are they? Could it be that Europeans in all their glory are the true racists of the world? Your behaviour towards Africa says a lot.

    • Ian says:

      “he has the opportunity and hopefully also the capacity to rally a people behind him”

      Myself and three other Irish people volunteered to work for the campaign and ended up in South Virginia – Obama’s campaign was amazing in the way in which grassroots people got involved. I think this will stand to him because people have put their trust in him and I think they will give him their backing

    • John says:

      Obama Citizenship in Question – Presidency is now in question – 2 Cases now pending in the United States Supreme Court.


    • RRB52 says:

      Obama’s citizenship has never been in any serious question, which explains why the McCain campaign never raised the issue. I have reviewed the information and documents in the link provided by John, above, and can state without hesitation that the action instituted by plaintiff Leo Donofrio is entirely without merit. Apparently, Donofrio relies in part upon information obtained from factcheck.org, but the documents from factcheck.org clearly indicate that Obama is a citizen of the US by virtue of his birth in Honolulu, Hawaii on 4 August 1961. Factcheck.org further noted that Obama would also have been a citizen of Kenya, until age 21, because of his father’s Kenyan citizenship and the provisions of the British Nationality Act of 1948.
      The US Supreme Court declines to accept for review most of the cases which are presented to it. The Court will decline the Donofrio case, leaving the judgement of the lower court in effect.

Search Politics