by Frank Schnittger
Wed Jul 16th, 2008 at 03:15:30 PM EST
Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton all had Irish roots and were not slow to exploit those roots in their attempts to court the American-Irish vote in America. All took the trouble to visit Ireland on a sentimental journey intended to play well with the Irish American population in the US. In fairness, President Clinton also made a substantial contribution to the Peace process, but the other visits were mostly for domestic US consumption.
Given that Obama's image has just been struck a serious blow by the publication, on the cover of the New Yorker Magazine, of a cartoon depicting him as a Muslim, and his wife as a terrorist, perhaps it is time for him to emphasize, however subliminally, that he has white, American, European and Irish roots as well.
There are reports that he is planning a trip to Iraq and Europe to bolster his national security, foreign policy, and global leadership credentials - the main areas where McCain still out-scores him in opinion polls.
Perhaps a little trip to dear ol' Ireland will also help break down the stereotype the GOP image machine is starting to build for him: that of a hard left, black, possibly white hating, possibly Muslim, and certainly not patriotic enough to have worn his nation's uniform or flag pin, and that his wife has only recently become 'proud to be an American'.
And lest anyone think that the New Yorker Cover is just a tasteless joke and a storm in a teacup, consider the following:
New Yorker Obama Cover: Pictures Speak Louder Than Words | Newsweek Voices - Jonathan Alter | Newsweek.com
To explain why it is harmful, consider Lesley Stahl and my cousin Paul.
Lesley Stahl covered the Reagan White House for CBS News. One day in 1984 she broadcast a five-minute (extremely long for TV news) blistering report on how President Reagan was cutting funding for public health and for children with disabilities. After it aired, the late Richard Darman, a top Reagan aide, called and said, "Congratulations! We loved it!"
Stahl was dumbfounded. The piece had been a hatchet job.
"Nobody heard what you said," Darman told her. The pictures Stahl had used to "cover" her story were of Reagan cutting ribbons at hospitals and speaking at the Special Olympics. The White House knew that these warm images spoke a lot louder than anything Stahl was reporting.
So if Obama has an image problem, what better way to counteract the New Yorker image by showing TV images of him checking out some tumble down cottage in some godforsaken part of rural Ireland?
The British Daily Telegraph has its doubts about the benefit of such ancestry:
Obama's Irish roots found to be Protestant - Telegraph
When it was discovered recently that Barack Obama had Irish forbears, it was presumed that America's Irish Catholic population would boost his campaign to become the first black president.
But further research into his family tree has revealed that unlike John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Mr Obama's ancestors came from the other side of the religious divide.
As the descendant of an Irish Protestant family, Mr Obama should not rely on the sort of support automatically enjoyed by Mr Kennedy, whose presidency marked the political arrival of Irish American Catholics.
New research has traced Mr Obama's maternal family tree back to his great-great-great-great grandfather Joseph Kearney, a well-to-do shoemaker from Moneygall, Co Offaly, who lived from 1794 to 1861. Mr Obama's roots were uncovered by Canon Stephen Neill, a Church of Ireland rector, who found baptismal and marriage records in the house of a late parishioner, Elizabeth Short.
The presidential candidate, the son of a Kenyan goatherd, comes from an Irish Anglican family, many of whom emigrated to the New World at the time of Ireland's potato famine in the 1840s.
However, in this The Telegraph is sadly out of touch - at least as far as Ireland is concerned. The fact that his Irish ancestor were protestant will matter not one whit to the Irish in Ireland, and may in fact be helpful in gaining the support of the Protestant majority Christian population in the US.
Of course, in terms of real politique, any such lineage is absolutely irrelevant. However in this era of image politics, any trip emphasising Obama's Irish roots and associating him with leading figures in the peace process, cannot but be a good antidote to the sort of virulent hate politics currently being developed in the US - to the effect that Obama is a Muslim, went to a Madrassa, supports anti-white Black clerics, refuses to wear a flag pin and has an America hating wife. Coverage of his humble roots will also help to offset the arrogant elitist meme currently being retailed by Conservative media outlets.
Perhaps Obama should give Samantha Power, his Dublin born former Foreign Policy advisor a call. She resigned to prevent her unguarded "Hillary is a monster" comment from becoming a distraction to his campaign. Organising a successful Irish visit could be a good way of rehabilitating her - and his commitment to human rights - as well.
In general, Obama, needs to get out more - from the hothouse of incestuous gossip that passes for politics in the Presidential campaign bubbles. He needs Americans to see him traveling abroad, hobnobbing with world leaders, and making grave and measured statements about the issues which the world must confront.
What better way for him to eat into McCain's advantage on National Security and Foreign policy? Obama would be greeted by cheering crowds almost anywhere he went. McCain would be demonstrated against, or at best politely ignored. If Americans want America to be looked up to by the rest of the World again, they couldn't be presented with a clearer choice.
Many will not care, of course, believing that "they hate us for our freedom". But any video images meeting the great and the good on a world stage, greeted by cheering crowds cannot help but act as a subliminal preparation for Americans to see him as "ready" for the White House. He will already have begun the visual transition from candidate to President.
Barry O'Bama for President! (And Samantha Power for National Security advisor).