By Ray O’Hanlon
If John Ashcroft is even half the hard man he has been portrayed by some opponents, it’s going to be a rough ride for some folks.
"John Ashcroft is the Elmer Gantry of American politics — evangelical piety disguising ambition and intolerance," wrote Jack Newfield in the New York Post.
"The attorney-general nominee thinks dancing is a sin, but that school segregation, assault weapons and anti-Catholic, anti-black Bob Jones University are just fine," Newfield went on to write in a column on the hard man from Missouri, a state now better known for a man of conviction rather than — in the Wild West days of course — men with convictions.
But above and beyond guns and dancing, Ashcroft does have a record in certain areas of concern, not least immigration.
As a senator from the "Shoe Me State," Ashcroft supported the Gingrich-era assault on immigrants, including green card holders. He backed moves to deny benefits to naturalized citizens and supported legislation to severely restrict welfare benefits for legal, green-card-holding immigrants. Lucky thing he wasn’t the nation’s chief law enforcement officer when the first Ashcrofts set foot on American soil. Clearly, with this guy running the marshal’s office in Tombstone-on-Potomac, there is a greater urgency than ever for green-card holders, Irish or otherwise, to turn that plastic into a passport. And if you’re an illegal, for God’s sake don’t get lifted by the INS at a performance of "Riverdance."
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Tom Hanks is up there as one of the top three or four bankable stars in Hollywood and he has an Irishman to thank for it.
Hanks, currently gunning for his third Oscar by virtue of his lone starring role in "Cast Away," gives credit for his career choice to Vincent Dowling, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Seems that way back, when Tom was an imperfect actor in search of a stage, he was given a shot at the thespian life by Dowling, then running the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio.
"Vincent’s the reason I’m an actor," Hanks told Michael Dwyer of the Irish Times.
"He gave me my first union job. . . . I first met Vincent when I was 20 years old and that was 24 years ago, and I probably have more vivid memories of the three years I spent at his theater than I have of the last three movies I’ve made."
Dowling’s theatrical work is now centered in Western Massachusetts. He runs the Miniature Theatre of Chester, in the heart of the Berkshires. Dowling’s autobiography, "Astride the Moon: A Theatrical Life," was recently launched in Dublin by Wolfhound Press. Hopefully, the book will make its U.S. debut soon and let all those Tom Hanks fans know how the man handled the bard’s scribblings years before he was falling in love with one Ryan (Meg) and saving another (Private).
Sinn Féin U.S. representative, Rita O’Hare, wasn’t at home Saturday night watching "The District" on CBS and the Terry George-produced episode of same that included in the story line a "Sinn Féin peace delegation" visiting D.C.
Neither was Rita up in New York at the annual Noraid dinner. The master of ceremonies task at that event was left to the evergreen — in more ways than one — "Uncle Joe" Cahill, a man whose frequent-flyer mileage account is only matched by his longevity.
No, our Rita was in the District checking out the incoming Bush administration on the night of a thousand furs and fireworks. Rita told "IF" that she is absolutely sanguine about the change in power in D.C. and reckons that Ireland and the peace process will remain a front-burner issue for the Bushies, not least because it was a bipartisan matter in Congress during the Clinton years.
"Some Brits and unionists think that the Bush administration will drop Ireland. But that’s just wishful thinking," O’Hare said.
It’s never to early to look forward to election contests, particularly when both main candidates might be Irish.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of RFK and lieutenant governor of Maryland, is reportedly raising loads of money to fund a gubernatorial bid next year. Right now, according to various estimates, she’s way ahead of anybody else in the popularity pack — save for one.
That one is Martin O’Malley, sometime bandleader and most of the time mayor of Baltimore, who has been roaring around his town in pursuit of criminals major and minor — and with considerable success.
A couple of years ago the magazine Capital Style featured KKT on its cover with the headline "The Last Viable Kennedy." Maybe so, maybe not. But she would appear to be facing a potential rival for the state house in the first viable O’Malley.
President George Bush can now drop the "a" in Dubya and replace it with an "o" if he wants. The new prez might be a zillionth cousin to Queen Elizabeth, but he also has a drop of Irish in his veins. But of course he has, comes with the job.
According to Wicklow-based genealogist Sean Murphy, Bush, though primarily of Yankee New England stock, has a smattering of Irish along with all that Mayflower plasma. Murphy, relying in part on the work of Gary Boyd Roberts of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, discovered that Bush has a great-great-great-great grandfather, William Holliday, who was born in Rathfriland, Co. Down, in 1755 while a great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, William Shannon — now there’s a name of Irish American note — was born about 1730 somewhere in County Cork.
So that’s two potential auld sod homesteads to visit, excluding, of course, a possible connection to Bushmills in County Antrim, a town not unlike Dubya’s hometown of Midland, Texas, in the sense that both places make their way in the world by refining liquids from crude to usable form.
When Taoiseach Bertie Ahern arrives at the White House this year with the bowl of shamrock, he should slip a bottle of Blackbush to the new prez for, eh, good measure.
€ "Foreign Policy? Clinton never had one. Instead, he had an endless collection of specific ideas: reconciliation in Ireland, force in Bosnia and Kosovo . . . " Former Clinton adviser Dick Morris in the New York Post.
€ I voted for George Bush because I believed it was more important for me to be a good American and a good Catholic than a good Democrat." Ray Flynn, former mayor of Boston, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and currently national president of the Catholic Alliance.