Them & Us: Obama, Romney, Ireland And Inspirational Politics

Glancing through your Facebook or Twitter feeds today, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Irish people are obsessed with politics.

Obama, Romney, electoral votes, the effects of Sandy, the queues in Florida, the voter registration laws, the number of press-ups Michelle Obama can muster and the relative smugness of the Romney children.

We care.

What I’ve only seen one post about, of course, is Irish politics. In four days we are having a referendum on children’s rights in this country, and yet nobody is talking about it. Part of this may be down to the fait accompli feeling surrounding the vote (which, by the way, won’t be accompli if people are too apathetic to reach quorum – Update: as pointed out in comments, Irish referenda don’t have quora, which is… better?). But as far as I can see, the majority of this can be put down to this: Irish politics has lost the ability to inspire, if indeed it ever had it.

The obvious rebuttal to such a statement is to suggest that the US election is not inspirational, it is merely a spectacle that is being shoved down our throats by a Western-obsessed media. And while it’s true that pretty much every news site is live blogging the Presidential election as if it were the X Factor final, I suspect that the truth is far more depressing.

At some point, it became impossible to feel passion and hope for Irish politics.

During this US election cycle (which I have been sucked into as much as anyone else) there have been a couple of major social issues on the table: the treatment of the poor, the possibility of equal marriage, and the threats to a woman’s right to choose.

Irish bloggers and commenters have been aghast at Mitt Romney’s opinion on the so-called 47%, his opposition to equal marriage, and his party’s vehement attempts to restrict abortion laws that have been in place since the early 70s.

What people are less concerned with, it seems, is how these issues are dealt with by our own government. Let’s not forget that on the issue of equal rights for the LGBT community, we are still in a position where we can’t adopt and cannot marry. And for those who believe that civil partnerships get the job done, I’d urge them to look at the Marriage Equality report detailing the 150+ differences between partnership and marriage.

On poverty, we have two parties – one in power and one on a path to resurgence – that have been responsible for crippling this country and placing the burden of earth-shattering repayments on those most at risk.

And on a woman’s right to choose, our people are rising up but our leaders are barely even talking about it – and have for twenty years ignored an edict directing that the slightest of wriggle room be given to the concept.

Of course US politics is a spectacle – everything in the US is. New York’s experience of Sandy was an Oscar-winning and heart-wrenching tale of man versus nature, while the countries she barrelled through on her way there were buried on page six. It’s what the media does, and as the supposed kings of media it’d be odd if things weren’t so clear-cut.

But what’s wrong with a little spectacle? What’s wrong with believing that people’s lives can be more than just day-to-day drudgery and nuance, and that sometimes our experiences can rise to the level of fable? That the best version of that skewed concept we call the American Dream can exist in the experience of their First Family? That we should be passionate, and emotional, and bull-headed about the fate of a country?

Perhaps it’s a life raised on The West Wing and The Daily Show that’s done it, but at some point most of the people I know became superlatively au fait with the specificities and issues of a country they’ve never lived in. Perhaps it is just media coverage that does it.

Or perhaps it’s something else.

Over the weekend myself and some friends were discussing The Two Marys – Robinson and McAleese. The former’s autobiography hit shelves recently, filled with the experiences of a woman who battled a distinctly unfriendly political climate to become our first female President, and then went on to champion countless causes as part of the UN and in other enterprises.

Mary McAleese was not just a perfect representation of but an active participant in the slow evolution of “The North” from battleground and political football to subject of a thousand tourist ads.

Our current President is also a champion of the arts, minority rights and more – and has done a strong job in a role that is constitutionally handcuffed.

In the Senate-while-we-have-it, there are also causes for inspiration – people like David Norris, who are outspoken on issues of equality in Irish society (and who teamed up with McAleese in the 80s to dismantle Ireland’s anti-homosexuality laws).

But beyond the Aras and the Senate, things fall away.

In short, there is something rotten at the heart of the Irish Oireachtas.

Our jaws drop at Mitt Romney and the concept that a political system can be bought by the highest bidder, yet we’re complacent as the twin cancers of nepotism and boys’ clubs choke the idea of a diverse Irish political system.

Perhaps it’s the power. The only recent examples of truly passionate politics lie in the President and the Senate, two areas where the position is often largely ceremonial. Maybe the Oireachtas just attracts those hungry for the power that their parents and grandparents fed on like scarabs.

But shouldn’t we expect better? Shouldn’t we be outraged?

In my entire life, no TD has ever inspired me. And while “inspiring” might be a dirty word in a time of X Factor contestant stories and a US electorate with cookie-cutter attitudes to important issues, it’s a vital component of any system of governance. Do we want rulers who dodge questions, hide behind committee structures, and choose to follow popular opinion rather than informing truly progressive public debate?

Where are our great orators? Where are the great men and women to embody the Irish combination of rebellion and poetry? Where are those who would put their heads above the parapet?  Where are our fucking leaders?

I’m not sure. But I don’t think we’re doing anything right now that will ensure that an Irish child today will grow up to be a statesman (or woman), and not just a politician.

So while it’s heartening to see people care about politics of any kind, it’s disturbing that we have grown long-sighted in our outrage, unable to see that the rot at home is more pervasive and difficult to weed out than that across the pond.

In 24 hours, my news feeds will – depending on the trajectory of tonight’s count – be filled with celebrations or commiserations

And in Ireland, nothing will have changed.


About alfla

Playwright, screenwriter, sometime improv enthusiast and full-time television lover. You know, in THAT way.
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32 Responses to Them & Us: Obama, Romney, Ireland And Inspirational Politics

  1. Cian says:

    You know there’s not a quorum in Irish referenda?

    Also, provision for the poor is rather a lot better in Ireland than in the U.S. – even the most right wing of Irish party’s wouldn’t endorse anything like is currently the case in the U.S.. Never mind what the Republicans would plan to bring in.

    It’s worth noting as well that one of our two governing parties are in favour of marriage equality for LGB couples, and have (iirc) pencilled it in for the constitutional conventions, set to happen during the current government. You may also have noticed the likes of Clare Daly (to pick someone from the opposition – it’s been brought up by Labour T.D.s as well) bringing up abortion in the Dáil. It’s hardly something our leaders are failing to talk about – they voted on it in the Dáil this year, for reference.

    Your initial point about the spectacle, and mass media was perhaps correct. Your latter points are entirely wrong – it’s not like the U.S. offers any real measure of choice that Ireland lacks. Even the supposed “good guys” there are perfectly happy to murder U.S. citizens without trial, and to retain illegal prison camps, the demolition of which were one of the few concrete promises made by Obama in his race for his first term.

    (Of course, I hope I’m wrong, and that nice Green Social Democrat wins, since that might lead to some actual change. But I don’t think I am, and I think you know as well as I do that the choice between Republicans and Democrats is no choice at all for the poor of America)

    • alfla says:

      My over-arching point was about the concept of spectacle, so glad that escaped the axe – the others were more to point out the lack of attention being paid to these issues at home as the US election bubbles around. In fact, I never said that all those issues were necessarily worse in Ireland, just that we tend to focus on issues abroad rather than at home.

      It’s also worth noting the constitutional convention may be a way to kick certain issues to the curb for some time, especially as it lacks teeth in its ability to enact actual change. The randomly selected aspect is also likely to cause problems in issues affecting minorities – such as the question of equal marriage. And on the issue of abortion, Clare Daly being an Independent politician and the overwhelming vote against the vote you mentioned earlier this year hardly points to a government that’s reflective of the populace in its discussion on the issue. Again, as I said, the point is that discussion on the issue here is practically non-existent in comparison to US politics.

      Wasn’t aware of the referendum quorum point, though, thanks for the heads up.

      Anyway, thanks for the input, though as I said the piece isn’t about whether we have a better political system in Ireland, it was about how much attention we’re paying to issues at home.

  2. The same complaint is common in Canada. That Canadians are more concerned and engrossed in American politics than they are with what’s happening in our own country. At the same time, the crazy line-ups outside polling stations in the US, showed some Canadians how much Americans really care about their politics and who runs their country and that maybe Canadians should do the same here….. Of course, it would probably make a difference if in Canada you could vote for your local representative, as well as the prime-minister directly. (In the US, you get to vote for the president directly, but in Canada you cannot vote for the prime-minister directly.)

    • alfla says:

      Was discussing this last night – same in Ireland, where you vote for local representative (who are a particular party) but not for the Taoiseach (our version of Prime Minister).

  3. Great point about the upcoming children’s referendum; the posters are up as per usual but other than that there’s little information about it. It seems like just about every party is unanimously in favour of it so there’s virtually no discourse on it. And it’s great to see a referendum that’s just very clearly a ‘Yes,’ morally and practically.

    But Irish voters have been known to a certain level of apathy and it nobody’s talking about it, it could so easily be forgotten. Here’s hoping it gets through anyway. The only naysayers are Dana, a seemingly divorced from reality group called Alliance of Parents against the State ( if you want to be terrified and amused at the same time) and, according to the front page of Dublin’s Metro Herald recently, fans of Eastenders.

    …I worry about our political culture too.

    • alfla says:

      Good old Dana – she’s a great signpost for the wrong side of an issue, makes everything simpler.

      As someone pointed out above, the referendum has no threshold to pass so any Yes vote turn out will do it, but it’s sad that there isn’t more get up and go in Irish politics right now. It’s either rebellious voices untempered by logic or power in the Independents, or same old same old from the take-you-pick-it-doesn’t-matter bigger parties.

      The last bit of passion was in the Presidential election here, where people were voting for a human being – which granted got stupidly vicious at times but at least had some verve and excitement to it.

      Ca bhfuil an middle ground?

  4. There’s an ‘it’ in there that was meant to be an ‘if.’
    My bad.

  5. Interesting post and perspective.

    I’m a Canadian living near NYC (from Toronto) since 1989. My husband, who is Hispanic, walked through the dark with a flashlight in the cold to be the first to vote at 6 a.m. at our local polling station — where he was greeted by several retirees working there as volunteers from our apartment building, one of whom is an 81 year old widow. I love this commitment to the process of voting, and find it deeply moving. I do see a tremendous passion here for the political process (and was terrified that Romney would win.)

    I think the fact Americans do get to choose the President makes the process of voting deeply and viscerally personal. People hug and grab him whenever they can, and there is such a mystique — very different from a PM we don’t get to choose ourselves in Canada or elsewhere. It is an amazing thing to watch, this fervor.

    • alfla says:

      I know – it’s hard to know what the best option is. Obviously there is more logic and fairness, and far less divisiveness, to the Prime Minister system both Canada and Ireland have, but electing a human being to lead the country does have visceral elements that can’t be ignored.

      It also has repercussions beyond the White House, where candidates for any role are interested in strong rhetoric, clear opinions and standing out – again, for good or ill.

  6. Ginger Kate says:

    Fantastic read! I’m glad I found your blog!

  7. segmation says:

    I love the green in that flag! So original and goes nice with this post!

  8. The Smile Scavenger says:

    “there have been a couple of major social issues on the table: the treatment of the poor, the possibility of equal marriage, and the threats to a woman’s right to choose.” —-I’m glad that the media coverage in your country got all of that! Over here, they pretty much ONLY covered the economy (no shock that according to NBC last night, 67% of Americans polled said it was the #1 issue they based their vote on). Granted, money is important . But so are, you know, human rights or something?
    Anyway, I hope you guys get there. Make a spectacle!

    • Honestly, I know very few people who would have said “economy”, but being an Army wife with a currently deployed husband, my circle of friends and support tend to put higher priority on our troops and the effects of the elections on them. There is so much wrong in our nation, and I fear none of the candidates had a real vision for prosperity unless it was in their own bank accounts.

      • The Smile Scavenger says:

        Agreed – they BOTH barely even spoke about the war(s). They only talked about soldiers in some vague, neutral “I love our troops” manner.

  9. I’m not a particularly political person, but maybe that’s because I feel transparency is severely lacking in politics, at least here in the States. I am very disappointed in our political system. Our nation was not established and our government was not set up to be a dual party system. We need fresh ideas and and we need them fast. We need politicians who remember that they were chosen “of the people”, put into office “by the people” and are to do nothing more than to be there “for the people”. Too many times, at least in US politics, it’s all about who’s money you can shove farthest into your pocket with little care to how those laws and policies effect the people who actually have to live under them. I, for one, am not proud of a President who will admit to cocaine use before he’ll release his college GPA. There is something not right about those values, and it deeply saddens me. I am heartbroken by the turn this country has taken and am embarrassed that the world puts on such a spectacle like this. Surely there are more important things to the nations of Ireland, Canada, and elsewhere than what the results of the elections here in the States. I fear for our nation and I pray for our leaders. At this point, it is the only thing I’ve left to do.

  10. cherylhuffer says:

    As an American, I’d like to say I am embarrassed by the spectacle we create. It’s like living in a circus every day with donkeys and elephants trying to gain the most applause. It is very, very contemptuous here. Even on a very small platform, people are “hot” when it comes to the president. I even defriend people on Facebook because of there assinine, ignorant comments that made my blood boil. After the election so over, for the next four years, the people against the winner will spend as much time as possible pointing out what is not getting done, what was misspoken, and what is going wrong with the nation instead of celebrating the small triumphs that are actually occurring. George Bush put this country into a very big predicament, and I don’t care if McCain would have won four years ago, we would still be in the shape we are in today.

    I wish we could offer more than just quality entertainment.

  11. Mitt Romney is not the evil man you depict. There are many reasons why people like myself voted for him. He works on the theory that you give someone a meal and you feed him for a day, give him a job and you feed him for life, which is why promoting jobs was at the heart of his campaign. He also believes in less goverment involvement. We have many Americans who are capable of working but dependent on governement and burdening the middle and working poor.

    The many issues at stake in this election made our presidential choice challenging.

  12. S.C. says:

    It might not be obvious to outsiders (in fact, it’s not even obvious to most Americans) but our two-party system is, on many counts, really more of a one-party system. There are big differences between the Dems and Reps on social issues and on some economic issues, but on the issues of foreign policy, corruption, transparency and the increasing power of the executive branch, they’re almost completely identical. Obama is a great and inspiring speaker, but to a large extent his actions have not backed up his words. I voted for a third party candidate and got called an idiot for it. Hey, so maybe I am. I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.

    To be honest, the situation in Ireland doesn’t sound all that different in terms of the political stagnation.

  13. Ask Liesmith says:

    The strange thing is that I’ve seen as much of that apathetic, cynical long-view of outrage in this country as it seems you’ve seen in yours. The last 12 years have not been good to us. In Bush’s 8, many of us became vastly disillusioned as it became clear that our government had been hijacked by corporate interests. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. Cheney.) And while Obama electrified us in 2008, many of us see his failure to deliver in resounding hammer blows at least as proof that the system is so corrupt that no single man — be he president — can hope to do much good with it. At worst we sometimes wonder if the statesman who left us in tears at the audacity of our own hope has sold out to political necessity in the end.

    Then there’s the partisan rancor of the last 4 years, when on several occasions congress has brought us to the brink of economic meltdown just to prevent their opponents across the aisle from claiming a victory. For a long time, Congress’s approval rating hovered around 10%, yet after the election the body remains mainly unchanged. Many of us don’t hope anymore.

    But I don’t think you should be disheartened. Often things have to get worse before they get better. Politicians over there and over here will maintain this course at their own peril. Eventually, when things are bad enough there will be — as there has always been — revolution. And that, my friend, will not be televised.

  14. joetwo says:

    Oooh nice! It sure is good to hear someone talking about the politics on the auld sod. While it is only natural that we focused on american politics for the past few days considering the powerful influence that office has over the whole world I disagree that Irish politics doesn’t hold drama in comparison. I remember 2007 and watching the live television report when Micheal McDowell was defeated. Everybody screaming and roaring, at the screen, fun times!

  15. jpbohannon says:

    Ask Liesmith is right on about the general malaise and cynicism affecting many Americans. Except for the one bubble of hope promised in the 2008 election, the battering of the Bush years and the lack of traction in the first Obama term have been soul-killing.

    • alfla says:

      It’s interesting – over in Ireland it feels like apathy can lead to a lack of attention on politics, while in the US feels like too much attention on politics can lead to apathy.

  16. GP says:

    Reblogged this on misentopop.

  17. Perhaps you are one of those fucking leaders. Seriously, this is powerfully written and one thing I’ve learned from my studies of Irish history is that the most powerful leaders were also often the most powerful orators.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this, and believe me, many of us are sick of the spectacle across the pond as well.

  18. ryanrussell3330 says:


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