Pity Paul Muldoon. The great Irish poet had the ridiculous task of following Barack Obama to the microphone at the White House Irish bash last night. It was like the Three Stooges following Pavarotti.
No reflection on Paul, who is a magnificent poet, but the oratorical skills of Obama means that anyone who follows might as well be dressed in a dunce cap and a "Kick me I’m Irish" sign.
Obama is that good. In person he’s even better than on television—and that is saying something. He grabbed the Irish crowd and held them spellbound – except it wasn’t an Irish crowd, but more on that later.
Even Irish Prime Minster Brian Cowen, no mean orator, could not compete with the man who would give Churchill a run for his money. He’s quick on his feet, great with the patter, serious when he needs to be and above all in command of the facts. It's like that super duper college lecturer who knows all things – yet retains a common touch that allows him to communicate.
Obama’s oratory was on full display as were all the peacocks in the Irish American community, proudly strutting their way around the two huge rooms in the East Wing of the White House.
There was a moment when he got up to speak that I saw this African American man at the podium with the seal of the president of the United States and it hit me like a sledgehammer, that yes, we had, we had actually elected a black man as president. What an achievement in a country that if is often down on itself on issues of race.
Not since Clinton left the White House have I seen so many happy Irish. The barren Bush years are a memory and now we can all party again on St. Patrick’s night as against the Methodist temperance meeting we held for eight years under Bush, an antiseptic lunch reception with no booze allowed and everyone staring at their shiny shoes.
Prime Minster Cowen certainly seemed buoyed by the day’s events. He had more face time with Barack than Michelle on this magic day, starting in the morning, with a bilateral meeting, then on to the Speaker’s lunch, then to the Shamrock ceremony and finally the reception. Luckily the two seemed to like each other.
Let’s not forget Michelle, either, the most watched First Lady since Jackie Kennedy. She got into the flow when the music started, shook hands with anyone and everyone and clearly enjoys the role she has carved out. She’s the ying to his yang, he’s cool cerebral, she’s warm and comforting. It’s a dynamic combination and the opposite of how it was with Bill and Hill.
Did I mention Hill? Oh yes, she was very much there, drawing a crowd the second she stepped into the room.
She spent some time with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who handed her an envelope, no doubt containing his corned beef and cabbage recipe. You have to wonder though, every time she steps into the hallowed halls, does she wonder why wasn’t it me? I think not actually. She is a master of moving on to the next challenge and she’s certainly got enough of a big one on her hands at State.
Also ran into Senator George Mitchell who filled me in on the Middle East mission. It's clear he is not looking forward to a hard right government in Israel, as he begins to put together the pieces for a potential deal.
Knowing George the watchword will be patience, lots of it. He once sat through a two-hour harangue from Unionist firebrand Reverend Ian Paisley. At the end he calmly resumed the conversation where he had left off. Paisley was astonished.
Overall it was a greet night - but something was missing - women and Irish leaders. But wait I hear you say, wasn't that what the night was about?
Yes it was, but the genius who thought up the idea that no spouses could come made it a far less colorful occasion, not to mention pissed-off spouses from Seattle to Secaucus.
As for the Irish no doubt there were plenty of them there but they all seemed to be from Chicago. A key refrain among long-time community leaders was "who are these guys?" Yes, Barack took care of his own and Mayor Daley of Chicago looked very content, but this party needs to be about more than one region of the land. Let’s hope it gets reviewed for next year.