By John Kelly
So they have finished the row, slugging it out in the primaries, through the snows of New Hampshire and the final Super Tuesday primaries.
In the heel of the hunt, it all ended up precisely as expected. The son of a former U.S. president will duke it out in the final round with a vice president.
One will win, one will lose, and hardly more than 50 percent of the registered voters of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, will vote for either.
It is an explicable paradox to the mass of Irish people, who have traditionally turned out in large voting numbers, that so few will cast their ballots for one who will become the holder of the most powerful office in the world. It makes little sense.
But what the Irish do know is that President Clinton will be a hard act to follow.
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They may find it extremely difficult to understand the Electoral College or the function of primaries, no less than most other European people, but they certainly realize that Clinton has made a genuine effort to bring peace to their divided island.
If truth were told, the Irish are also a little spoiled by their own electoral representatives. They expect them to be available at a moment’s whim.
Sometimes, as the various ongoing public tribunals may suggest, they may be much too available, especially to the bearers of brown envelopes.
The Irish, north and south of the border, almost began to regard Clinton in the same fashion, sans brown envelopes, of course.
The big difference is that it was Irish politicians, not to mention British prime ministers who seemed to have expected Clinton to get them out of the mess they had created for themselves.
The amazing thing is that the complex U.S. system could have produced a president who, unlike most of his more recent predecessors, was so fully aware of foreign policy. Too often, it seems that U.S. leaders tend to ignore the world at large.
In short, the Irish, or the majority of them, liked Clinton. And they liked Hillary as well.
They also sympathized with her. Not many women in the world could have been exposed to the ignominy that she was forced to endure.
The more perceptive among the Irish tribe will also remember the great work done by the former U.S. Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, never a woman to forget her ancestral background.
All of the Irish, north and south, owe much to both.
Whatever they have said and will say about Bill Clinton, however many risqué jokes may be swapped over cigars and brandy, the fact is that he, more than any other American President, tried hardest and longest to reconcile the people of Ireland.
History, I feel, will prove that he did succeed against all of the odds. Clinton did a lot of things that were very wrong in the most foolish of ways. They are mistakes that he will have to pay for personally. The Irish people have taken a remarkably charitable view of his foibles, probably with much more tolerance, than they would treat homegrown politicians.
Still, come to think of it, you don’t hear too much criticism of Bertie and Celia anymore. Is this indicative of the possibility that the Irish people have grown up to live in the real world of the second millennium?
Or is it just that we have always accepted the distinction between the public profile and the personal character, extending right back to Parnell?
Whatever the truth may be, the majority have admired Clinton more than most of his predecessors. He tried to do something different for the Irish people. Of course Jean Kennedy Smith encouraged him. Clearly, he followed the advice of people like Kennedy Smith. Just as certainly, he had to surmount hurdles placed by various other American envoys around the globe, which is not to mention the State Department as well.
After all, there is an American military establishment as well as the British version. And they get along extraordinarily well.
They are not easily swayed by sentiment.
For what it is worth, I don’t believe that Clinton was swayed too much by sentiment, either. Quite simply, he realized at a very early age, perhaps when he was a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, that the artificial and unnecessary division of a small island like Ireland was absolutely nonsensical.
Some of his colleagues within the Democratic Party cemented that suspicion. His greatest virtue is that others of his ilk have failed to comprehend such a basic truth. Even greater was his determination to act on it.
Certainly, the British Conservative Party still has a long way to go down that road. Its members still do not realize that Ireland is different, despite the similarities between the two neighboring islands.
The great thing about the Irish viewpoint is that Clinton, on his side of the Atlantic, has been joined by Tony Blair, the British prime minister. Perhaps the best thing of all is that neither requires the island as a strategic post in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The result is that unionists and republicans alike are now encouraged by the two great powers, backed up by an enthusiastic and thriving European Union, to bury their differences.
Such a formidable liaison cannot but succeed.
Could it have happened without Clinton?
Could it have been achieved without the support of Kennedy Smith and the hard-headed, stubborn dedication of John Hume?
Will any member of the Republican Party continue the struggle?
Think about it.
You are the American voter.
We Irish are the hurlers on the ditch.
But we know which team we are cheering.
Thank you, Bill, and you, too, Hillary.