Ireland, the tiny nation with the big ruddy-faced Ted Kennedy welcome, has tuned into the Primary Season as though there’s caucuses being held in Dublin and Cork. The Democratic race in particular has gripped the imagination of the chatterati. And Ireland, like the US, has a media run on conventional wisdom. That wisdom has taken a huge shaking following the Obama bandwagon, John McCain’s resurrection and Hilary’s hubris.
The media was out step with events across the pond by pre-ordaining Mrs C to cakewalk the Democratic nomination. She may well win it. But not without the fight of her political life. And the op-ed writers and commentators are having to react…and fast.
Firstly, just so all Republicans reading know, Ireland is no different to those other awkward peace-loving, welfare supporting, twenty-day- a year-minimum vacationing Europeans. President Bush is widely seen as a manure-kicking, Peter Sellars /Chauncey Gardiner type who only got elected to re-start Michael Moore’s career. In short, we’re all Democrats. We love Big Government, consensus politics, the environment and, eh, Michael Moore. Ireland, in particular, has a soft spot for the old rogue Bill. He pushed the Peace Process in Northern Ireland that led to the present IRA ceasefire; his political capital knows no limits among the Irish-American lobby and he has the cachet of celebrity which he is not afraid to use. Now it’s his wife’s turn…and that’s the logic of much of the media support for Hilary over the last two years. No matter that she’s singularly ruthless in her political tactics (bringing race into the South Carolina primary) or critical of her opponents lack of experience (Hillary, got elected in New York not by calling herself Ms Rodham but by, in that most un-feminist of tropes, piggy backing on the name of her husband); she is, in that hackneyed and irritating expression, a ‘Friend of Ireland’ and this is why she must be supported.
The Liberal press establishment here (essentially all non-tabloid newspapers and broadcasters) have reacted to Barack Obama’s rise with a classic position – the Hedge. They still make Hillary the favourite, talk of the inevitability of the Clinton machine beating the young up-start and avoid looking at the New York Senator’s astonishing political volte-faces over the last twenty years. But among Political junkies over here there is the growing view that Obama is something special. We differ to the Press in that we are Obama not Hillary supporters – we see a genuinely charismatic and idealistic man daring to challenge the Clinton dynasty. And, dare it be said, someone who passes the Bush test of a guy you’d like to have a beer with.
Another problem for the political establishment and professional political commentators has been Bill’s Bad Behaviour. What can they say about a man that was instrumental in bringing peace to this island who has, to put it bluntly, lost the plot? As former Republican journalist Andrew Sullivan stated, if Karl Rove had used the Clintons tactics in South Carolina, he would, rightly, have been condemned for race-baiting. Instead, this aspect of the Clintons is glossed over, seen as a slip, an aberration. Bill interfered in the Irish General Election last year by giving his backing to the current Prime Minister; not just support, but a full endorsement. The ‘First Black President’ got a rebuff from Toni Morrison recently. In Ireland, that Clinton Presidential halo is beginning to slip – the Irish media is reflecting rather than leading this opinion-change. They are getting to grips with Slick Willie side of Mr Clinton as well as the elder statesman aspect of his character.
Meanwhile, the challenge form McCain is another conundrum for the media over here. Is he a moderate? A Foreign policy adventurer? Too old? A man of integrity? All of these labels have been applied. But little attention has been paid to polls giving McCain a victory over either Obama or Clinton. This writer can add that he saw the prison cell where Senator McCain was held captive – he’s entitled to be more than a little bit flinty after his years in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. He will make a formidable candidate if nominated; Obama versus McCain would be a fascinating battle for the Independent and Moderate vote.
So what’s going to happen on Super Tuesday? Well, this author doesn’t know, the media don’t know and Clinton, Obama, McCain and Romney don’t know either; the figures will shift right up to polling time. All we know for sure is that there’ll be another shift in the sands of conventional wisdom with everybody rushing to tell us ‘We Told You So’. And maybe we’ll have grounds for celebrating ‘The Audacity of Hope’…