Obama has gone ‘as far as he can’ in criticising Trump, speechwriter says

Cody Keenan unveils statue of former US president in Moneygall, Co Offaly

Former US president Barack Obama “has gone about as far as he can” in indirectly criticising his successor, Donald Trump, according to Mr Obama’s former director of speechwriting, Cody Keenan.

Mr Keenan, a seventh generation Irish American, is in Ireland following a holiday in Italy for his “first real holiday since leaving the Obama White House”. While here he is holding meetings with the Washington Ireland Programme, where he is Writer in Residence.

He also attended the unveiling of a statue to Barack and Michelle Obama at the Barack Obama Plaza, in the former president’s ancestral homeplace of Moneygall, Co Offaly, on Monday.

Asked if he wrote Mr Obama’s July speech in South Africa, delivered on the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, in which Mr Obama cautioned against “strongman politics”, a reference taken to be a stinging rebuke of Mr Trump, Mr Keenan said the speeches were always Mr Obama’s, his own role being just to assist.


But he added the former president “has definitely spoken out and made more statements than any other ex-president had to”, Mr Keenan said.

‘Show up and vote’

Asked about Mr Obama’s future intentions in relation to criticism of the Trump administration, Mr Keenan said: “I think he will take it as it comes.” He said Mr Obama had made the point that it is now “up to everybody else” in the political arena to take part, and for outsiders to “show up and vote” in the midterm elections. The midterm elections will mostly be held on Tuesday, November 6th, in the middle of Republican president Donald Trump’s term.

Mr Keenan also revealed the former president’s speech in Dublin’s College Green – in which he spoke positively about Ireland using the words “Is féidir linn” (yes we can) – was inspired by a slogan both men saw just hours before the event, on a t-shirt in Dublin.

Mr Keenan said the then US president had cottoned on immediately to then taoiseach Enda Kenny’s use of an Obama speech for Mr Kenny’s own College Green address. In the original 2008 version Mr Obama said: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

Mr Kenny said: “If there’s anyone out there who still doubts that Ireland is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our ancestors is alive in our time, who still questions our capacity to restore ourselves, reinvent ourselves and prosper, today is your answer.” Mr Keenan said the Americans saw it as a witty homage to the US president.

In Moneygall, Mr Keenan unveiled a Mark Rode statue of the former president and first lady adjacent to the Visitors Centre at The Barack Obama Plaza.

A renowned sculptor, Mark Rode has created what is described as an intimate bronze statue.

The owner of the plaza, Pat McDonagh, said he is committed to helping ensure the story of Obama’s Irish ancestry and his connection to Moneygall village will be promoted.

The plaza is managed by Mr Obama’s eighth cousin Henry Healy, dubbed by Mr Obama as “Henry the Eighth”.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist