By John Kelly
"Dead ducks and lame ducks," that’s the most cynical summing up of President Clinton’s visit to Russia. Clinton, of course, is a lame duck politically, especially if the steady drip of scandalous disclosures combines into a flood of revulsion among the American people.
But polls suggest that Americans don’t pay much heed to the Zippergate scandal. They seem to wish to believe that the scandal has more to do with "in-trading" within the media. In other words, not only is the media reporting what is happening, it is also helping to create it — and that it is in their self-interest to continue to push it for all it’s worth.
There may be some truth in that — and there is certainly a lot of truth in what Hillary Clinton claimed at the outset: that political opponents are out to get Bill Clinton, no matter the cost.
But then, that’s what all political opponents try to do. Unsteady is the hand that possesses the holy grail of power.
It’s as Albert Reynolds, the former taoiseach and the main architect of the current peace process, said when he was heaved out of office: "You get over the big hurdles. It’s the small ones that trip you up."
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It is the accumulation of small facts that may yet trip up Clinton, especially as he approaches the Rubicon of the November Congressional elections. You can expect further sensational, sleazy disclosures within the next month.
But don’t blame the media. What has already gone before is more than bad enough. A U.S. president has to admit under oath that he lied and that he did, despite earlier denials, have an "inappropriate relationship" with a young woman.
The spin doctors tried their damnedest to undermine the stories that crept into the "respectable" media. There were serious attempts to denigrate Monica Lewinsky. But the fact is still the fact, whatever its origin or whatever the cause of its origin. No section of the media, however incestuous or malicious, can be blamed for that. No, rather it falls on a rash president and a young woman who seems just about ruthless enough to get anything she wants.
It is a great pity. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared last week just before Clinton spoke to an invited audience in the jammed Waterfront Centre in Belfast, no other American president has done more for peace in Northern Ireland. He also said that the people of the North owe him a deep debt of gratitude.
And they do. So, for that matter, do all of the people of this island.
The result, as Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said in his fine speech, "Tomorrow is another country." It is indeed, thanks to all of those who forged the peace process and made the necessary political compromises. Without Clinton, without George Mitchell, without Albert Reynolds and, most of all, John Hume, Northern Ireland would still be "yesterday."
And if the Rev. Ian Paisley ever has his way, along with his fossilized DUP party, it will be the day before yesterday.
But if the presidential visit to Ireland is anything to go by, the chamber orchestra that performed in the Waterfront Centre as the guests arrived to greet the president and the British prime minister, should not have played the Beatles’ "All the Lonely People” but rather "Yesterday is History."
I don’t really know if there is a song with such a title, but so far as the island of Ireland is concerned, there should be.
Whatever about Clinton’s domestic problems on the political and personal front, his visit to Ireland was a much needed tonic even as we enter into the darker days of autumn, having survived the equally dark days of a summer.
It was a triumph.
From Belfast to Omagh, through Armagh, Dublin, Limerick and that imperious king of a golf course at Ballybunion, President Clinton didn’t put a foot wrong. In Belfast, his speech, delivered almost reflectively rather than with any great drama, was spot on, especially when he warned the audience that if the peace process failed, there was little else that could work in their lifetimes.
He is right. So too, for that matter, was Mallon when he said: "History cannot be unlived, but need not be lived again."
The war must now be definitely finished, not just because of the visit of a charismatic American president but because the people of all of the island of Ireland have cast their votes for peace. They do not want to experience any more carnage.
Clinton’s visit to Omagh was, of course, deeply affecting. Here were the victims of dreadful violence out to meet and greet him. There were the flowers deposited at the spot where so many had died dreadfully. And even as they paid their respects, the leg of a 19-year-old girl had just been amputated as the result of the same explosion.
Little more than two hours before, David Trimble, the leader of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, had told the attendance at the Waterfront Centre that if the war is finished, there is now no room for illegal weapons. He also told the world that his aim is to establish a pluralistic parliament for a pluralistic people. It was the first time that any leader of Northern Ireland had ever made any such declaration.
By all standards, it was a truly historic week for the people of the island of Ireland.
And if phrases, as well as terms, make history here, as they surely do, if one really wants to know the mindset of President Clinton, it must have been noted by many that when he referred to Derry, he omitted the "London" prefix.
Paisley, who was not there, must surely have taken note. Let us hope that he ignores the inevitable conclusion.