The Bigger Picture
Published on June 1st 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Having already explained why I believe President Obama will win re-election in 2012 in my previous column, today I will discuss my impressions about his visit to Ireland last Monday.
To begin with I want to note that President Obama’s only public appearances on his weeklong European visit were the two he made in Ireland; his visit to his ancestral home in Moneygall and his public speech later that day at College Green in Dublin. Furthermore, the primary purpose of President Obama’s other stops in the UK, France and Poland, was to reassure his European neighbours that America’s longstanding alliance with Europe was still very important to him. But in the case of Ireland, President Obama and other Americans’ obvious affection for the ‘old sod’ made such reassurances totally unnecessary.
No, instead of seeking to reassure Ireland that it was still important to America, the real purpose of President Obama’s visit to the ‘Emerald Isle’ was to remind the Irish people of how important they are, not just to America, but to the rest of the world as well. He duly noted the fact that he is one of the more than forty million Americans with “blood links” to Ireland, thanks to over 150 years of Irish emigration to America, by joking to his audience that, “I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.”
But then President O’Bama (the Irish spelling of his name) went on to acknowledge Ireland’s broader contributions in the areas of food security, human rights and UN peacekeeping missions, by reminding everyone just how much Ireland also “punches above its weight” in the much larger global arena. I thought this was an excellent remark, because I think some Irish citizens may have forgotten this during the last three years of mind numbing economic recession.
President O’Bama’s speech on College Green included a message of hope for the future and solidarity with America. Just like you or I might tell an old friend going through tough times that we’re confident things will get better, President O’Bama told the Dublin crowd that “Ireland is a little country that inspires the biggest things. Your best days are still ahead.”
Then in an acknowledgement of America’s solidarity with Ireland and the Irish people, President O’Bama told the audience “Our greatest triumphs, in America and Ireland alike, are still to come.” He then closed his speech with a refrain that included the Irish translation of his Presidential campaign’s famous slogan, “Is féidir linn, yes we can! Is féidir linn, yes we can!”
Frankly, I was not at all surprised by President O’Bama’s rousing and inspiring speech to the assembled multitude on College Green. The President’s oratorical and rhetorical talents are both well known and well documented. I have also been fortunate enough to have been present for a few of his best speeches, some of which were very inspirational, while others, such as his 2009 Presidential Inaugural Address, were much more sobering.
But as an American who has also been a keen observer of President O’Bama’s demeanor and behavior in a variety of triumphant as well trying moments, I was struck by how relaxed and at home the President seemed to be throughout his entire visit. I observed some of this in person at College Green and witnessed the other moments courtesy of the wall to wall television coverage the President’s day long visit received.
Maybe I’m totally wrong about this and I was only seeing a great acting performance in front of the ever present TV cameras by President O’Bama. Regardless, I still had a very palpable sense that the President was in fact very relaxed and at ease while he was here in Ireland, more so in fact, than at any other time I have seen him since he became President.
Even before he was elected President, I never saw President O’Bama wade into a crowd of onlookers shaking hands and hoisting babies with the same kind of sheer joy and abandonment that I saw him display on the streets of Moneygall. Furthermore, although I have seen President O’Bama order and drink a beer before, I have never seen the President order another round and make a point of paying for it. Was that simply a reflection of the taste of a Guinness or of a man who felt at home even though he was among strangers?
But President O’Bama also appeared to be just as relaxed and among ‘old friends’ when I observed his behavior following his speech at College Green. He didn’t just spend the obligatory time shaking hands and posing for pictures with the guests on the stage behind him. He then went down to the crowd and shook hands with as many people as he could there as well. Indeed, time seems to stand still when you are truly at home and with your friends.