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Irish ghosts haunt the presidential campaign trail

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Ron Paul. (AFP/Getty Images)
As Martin McGuiness embarks on an Irish presidential race that is sure to resurrect a fair share of ghosts from the past, Americans are also slogging their way through a tough presidential campaign.

Recently, an interesting spat broke out involving a controversial candidate, a current Irish newspaper columnist, and a fascinating yet forgotten pundit from the past.

The next thing you knew, the charges of anti-Semitism and McCarthyism were flying, and it was real hard to tell who the liberal and who the conservative was.

More broadly, there is ongoing confusion about the Irish and their politics in America.  Were they really predominately union-loving Democrats before becoming, predominately (or not) Reagan-loving Republicans?

Perhaps it’s time for you to meet John T. Flynn. Flynn is touted as a great thinker by the presidential campaign of Republican maverick -- or is that kook? -- Ron Paul.

On the campaign trail, Paul touts Flynn’s many controversial books, such as As We Go Marching, The Epic of Freedom and The Road Ahead.

Though Mitt Romney and Rick Perry get all the press, Paul recently placed second in a closely watched Iowa straw poll and often places an impressive third in Republican polls.

The number of folks who remember Flynn is small these days, but he was a towering intellectual figure -- loved and loathed -- in the 1930s and ‘40s.

What did Flynn believe?  Well, that’s where things get complicated.

John Thomas Flynn was born outside of Washington in 1882 to John and Margaret
Donovan Flynn.  As John E. Moser writes in the 2005 book John T. Flynn and the Transformation of American Liberalism, “In good Irish Catholic fashion, (Flynn) was educated in parochial schools.”


Famed for his passionate argument, an intellectual adversary once described him as an “eternal Hibernian in eruption.”
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Flynn rose to prominence as a basher of the elite and supporter of FDR’s New Deal, which aimed to heal the scars of the Great Depression.  So, Flynn’s a liberal, right?

Well, not quite.  He grew to hate Roosevelt, seeing the president himself as an elite.  He later embraced the rabid anti-Communism of fellow Irish Catholic Joseph McCarthy.

Super-conservative, right?  Well, no, because Flynn clashed with right-wing icon William F. Buckley and bashed military spending as a problem which drove Americans into debt.

He also opposed American military involvement abroad, and was a prominent member of the America First Committee, along with Socialist Norman Thomas and hero-turned-Jew-baiter Charles Lindbergh.  This opened Flynn up to charges of anti-Semitism.

To this day, no one can quite piece the puzzle of John T. Flynn together.

Irish American Newark Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, for example, is a Paul supporter who has traded barbs with a conservative radio host named Mark Levin.

A recent article in the American Spectator magazine argued, “When a [Ron] Paul supporter like…Mulshine repeatedly zeros in on conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, always dismissing the Jewish Mr. Levin…Mulshine seems to be conjuring the ghosts of Ron Paul’s favorite, John T. Flynn.”

In other words, Mulshine -- and Flynn -- are anti-Semites.

Mulshine would have none of this, noting that he is “as Irish as Paddy’s pig.”

On occasion Mulshine also calls “Sean Hannity…as dumb as a Dublin doorknob.”  That, Mulshine says, “does not make me anti-Irish.”

Perhaps the only tradition John T. Flynn fits neatly into is the very complicated Irish American political tradition.

Like many Irish Democrats, Flynn was raised to be wary of elites. And yet, like Joseph P. Kennedy, his belief (perhaps because they were still insecure Catholic in Protestant America) was that Americans should not sacrifice their lives in foreign wars.  Especially ones which allied them with the British.

Finally, like Joe McCarthy and, yes, even the sainted Bobby Kennedy, anti-Communism was a central tenet for John T. Flynn.

That’s one reason why, in 2000, the fanatically anti-Communist John Birch Society named Flynn, alongside dictators such as Franco and Pinochet, as one of its top 25 heroes.

Interestingly, the fellow who wrote the list for the Birchers was the group’s Brooklyn-born President, a lad named John F. McManus.

Where does that leave us in 2012?  I guess it means that a vote for Ron Paul is a vote for John T. Flynn.

What that means exactly is entirely up to you.

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