Columns » Ernest Dumas

Erin go ’Bama


CAHERSIVEEN, IRELAND — Even in ordinary times, the average sophistication of the Irish on all things American may rival our own. On U.S. politics, Irishmen will be at least as keen as workaday American voters although not nearly as divided. As far as an inquisitive traveler can tell they are all for Barack Obama.

The universal contempt for George W. Bush probably accounts for that. Because he has championed Middle East war even before Bush and with more vigor and even less contemplation, Europeans view John McCain, whatever his other departures from Bush, as an extension of the Bush presidency.

Right now, that is really, really bad. Iraq, torture and the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis are dim memories now, but every wakeful hour the media brings fresh evidence of why everyone's fortunes, literally, are tied up in the American presidential race. The collapse of financial markets worldwide has commentators on English networks talking about an end to the great European prosperity and a change in everyone's way of life.

They blame it on the United States and, secondarily, its British consorts. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative German and French leaders, say the crisis is altogether of Anglo-American making and that view seems to prevail even in places like Ireland, which did not absorb the toxic American debts but imitated the American mistakes of easy credit and laissez-faire governance.

“Bush ruined the U.S. in four years, didn't he, and it took eight to get around to the rest of us,” a bed and breakfast operator observed. Bed-and-breakfast hosts are notoriously talkative and assertive, maybe because they see more Americans than anyone else.

“We understand why you would make the mistake of electing him the first time, but why would you do it a second?” asked Eddie Flaherty, who runs a B&B at Clifden on the westernmost reach of Galway. Anticipating your protest that you didn't contribute to that mistake, he goes on. “I've never yet met an American who voted for George Bush. It makes you wonder how he got elected.”

Flaherty said he worked on Wall Street as part of an Irish construction crew that contracted to renovate the quarters of Goldman Sachs. He worked around the desk of Henry Paulson, then a Goldman Sachs executive who as Bush's treasury secretary is the architect of the U. S. financial remedies. Flaherty was impressed that Paulson was an ordinary fellow who put on his britches one leg at a time but he did not think much of Paulson's financial acumen.  The secretary may have suffered some loss of esteem when he took a job with George W. Bush.

“Obama is going to win, isn't he?” Flaherty asked, nodding at the expression of doubt. “That's how it looks here. And then they'll kill him. Everybody thinks that's what in store. That is the pattern, isn't it?” He mentioned the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King.

That, indeed, is the nearly universal expectation. A traveler anywhere in Europe is likely to hear, over and over, some expression of that fear, which is rarely articulated in the United States. The European press the past week has played up the angry yells of partisans at McCain and Sarah Palin rallies that call not only for nastier campaign tactics against Obama but physical harm.

Monday morning's Irish Independent devoted two full pages to the American presidential race, a typical measure of the attention the race gets in this country. Much of it is about Palin, whose selection as McCain's running mate fascinates and bewilders the Irish. Had Americans ever heard of her? they ask.

“Why did McCain pick her?” asked a waitress in a cafe in Castlemaine, a village on Dingle Bay. “Was it that she shot and butchered the moose? That appeals to the lower classes, doesn't it?”

It was explained that no, McCain picked her in hopes that her perky personality and views on social issues would excite women and religious conservatives.

The moose is a joke in the United States but it is an oddly big deal in Europe. Mary Kenny, a popular columnist, explained it in this morning's Independent, where she cautioned people to be philosophical about Palin's he-man image and her ethical lapses. Killing animals is a measure of power in the frontier Alaskan culture, she said. Bloody hunters become priests.

“These are not the same conditions of life in the peaceful purlieus of Dublin 4,” Kenny wrote. “We shouldn't ascribe our softer, more suburban values to people who live in different circumstances.” And Americans have always been forgiving of slippery conduct by their public officials, she said, after analyzing Palin's use of the governor's office in Alaska to destroy the career of her former brother-in-law and her lapses as a small-town mayor.

The bigger question for the Irish is the quality of leader who would pick such a person to be president if he should falter and what that holds for all of them, not to mention Americans, if he should win.

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