US election race closer than our distorted view suggests
The pro-Democrat disposition of the Irish skews our view of the presidential campaign
EARLIER THIS year, to illustrate his argument that RTÉ had a liberal bias, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar cited an interview he had heard about the US presidential election in which, he said, no effort had been made to understand or explain the Republican Party’s point of view.
The Minister chose a bad example. Distorted coverage of US elections by Irish media is not confined to RTÉ and derives from the general pro-Democrat disposition of the Irish, and Irish media in particular, rather than any institutional liberal bias.
Since president John F Kennedy’s visit half a century ago the Irish have lost the capacity to be detached about US presidents. Kennedy was one of our own and an icon even before his untimely death gave him iconic status.
We were understandably cooler on Lyndon B Johnson and downright antagonistic towards Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan’s Ballyporeen ancestry could not insulate him against our innate antipathy to US Republicanism.
Our Irish-American cousins may have abandoned their traditional allegiances in droves to join the throngs of Reagan Democrats but his Latin American policies in particular made him a bête noire for even the mainstream Irish media.
Bill Clinton’s efforts for our peace and his eloquence on visits here recharged the Irish affections for Democratic presidents.
We, like most, had been nonplussed by George Bush snr and were to be confirmed in our anti-Republican outlook by the actions and personality of George W Bush. So distorted was the mainstream Irish view of the 2004 election that there was was palpable shock on this island the day after Bush jnr was re-elected. We just couldn’t understand how Americans could do it.
Now we are struggling with the realisation that Obama could fall. In these parts there was a failure to see how much he owed his victory to the economic crisis. We were wrapped up in the iconic moment of the United States electing a black man to the presidency for the first time and a young one at that, with oratorical skills and an aura at least matching that of Kennedy.
In the 2008 US presidential election it was not Obama’s colour what done it, it was the economy, stupid: it almost always is. The economic crisis was the making of Obama’s victory in 2008 and it is the fact that the economic crisis endures that may be his undoing in 2012.
John McCain, in so many ways a more able and experienced politician than Obama, lost in 2008 because he was encumbered by the Bush economic legacy and by his own failure to appreciate the implications of the Lehman Brothers collapse.
As the Republican candidate this time around, Mitt Romney carries some of the burdens of the Bush economic legacy, but less so, and he is better able to position himself as an economic manager than McCain was.
Obama’s difficulty was tackled best by Clinton in his 50-minute address to the Democratic National Convention. Obama, he said, had inherited a mess and had stopped things getting worse, and the US was better off than it was four years ago.