Hillary Defeat Is Our Loss

SENATOR Hillary Clinton's defeat in the Democratic presidential primary is bad news for Ireland. There is no question that had she won the primary and gone on to win the White House there would have been huge positives for Ireland in her victory.

No candidate in history, including her husband, came into an election with such an in-depth knowledge and regard for Ireland and Irish American issues.

That is not chopped liver in a world where the competition to have the ear of the next president will be intense. Clinton would certainly have had a welcome for Irish concerns.

Her base of Irish American support was incredibly strong, and no one was in any hurry to switch to Senator Barack Obama even when the tide was against her.

Individuals like Declan Kelly, the head of Financial Dynamics who spearheaded a fundraising drive that raised over $3 million for her campaign, were in the vanguard. So too was Stella O'Leary, head of Irish American Democrats, and Brian O'Dwyer of the New York law firm of O'Dwyer and Bernstien, as well as a host of other activist Irish who had stood with the Clintons over the past decade and a half.

Clinton had visited Ireland seven times, and in addition was very familiar with a large group of Irish Americans who stood with her to the end.

Interesting to note that one of her chief fundraisers remarked last week that the most enjoyable events she helped organize were the Irish ones for her candidate.

It was noticeable at Clinton's remarks last Tuesday in Manhattan that many Irish American supporters showed up for the last hurrah. Intensely loyal to her to the end, they are precisely the kind of Hillary supporters that Obama needs to nail down.

That is no automatic thing. As Tip O'Neill famously remarked, people like to be asked for their vote.

To date there has been little or no outreach from the Obama camp to the Irish American community, a point made very forcefully by John Dearie, head of the Irish Presidential Forum who has been trying to bring Obama to a forum event.

There is also a strong residual liking for Senator John McCain in the Irish American community. He has in recent years spoken out on Northern Ireland and, more importantly, has been one of the very few Republicans to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats on immigration, as well as appearing at Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform rallies both in Washington, D.C. and New York.

In contrast Obama has never made any Irish events, with the exception of the obligatory St. Patrick's Day parade or two.

What we have lost, effectively, is the chance of parlaying over 15 years of working with the Clintons on issues as diverse as immigration reform and Northern Ireland into a strong voice in the White House.

That's bad news for Ireland. There are many issues concerning Ireland where a friend in the White House could be very important.

One issue that is giving the Irish government bad dreams is the one of repatriating overseas profits by American multinationals. Obama has made it very clear that he intends to bring in laws to enforce that.

These overseas profits and tax breaks on them are essentially the source of the Celtic Tiger for Ireland. The nightmare for Ireland is multinationals deserting in droves if the proposals by Obama ever make it to legislation.

That is no nightmare rooted in fantasy. It is eminently possible that a new Obama regime may begin that process soon after coming into office.

So where will the Irish clout be to stop such an event? Right now it is hard to know what the Obama campaign intends to do about building an Irish base.

The polls are clear that white ethnic Americans are an absolutely critical component to a victory for him in November. It certainly makes sense that Obama would reach out, and McCain too, for that matter, perhaps by appearing at the presidential forum.

The weeks ahead will tell a lot. Until then we can only look back in regret at the Clinton campaign, and wonder what it might have been like to have the most pro-Irish president in American history. Alas, it was not to be.

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