Between the 19th of May and the 26th, US President Barack Obama went from a rather public falling out with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to toasting Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster. In between, he managed a quick visit to Ireland. It is time to reflect.
sober (adj.): 1. not affected by alcohol; not drunk. 2. serious, sensible, and solemn.
It is unlikely that, in the history of Ireland, the presence of one person on the island for half a day created so many column inches, and Barack Obama’s visit this week – arriving after sunrise and leaving before sunset – went as close to perfectly as both nations’ governments could have hoped. But there was a corporate bounce to boot, most notably for Guinness and the company that owns the black stuff, Diageo, who could not have dreamed of the kind of PR that Obama gave them through images like this one.
The most popular and iconic political leader across the globe was in Ireland drinking with his wife while cracking jokes and seemingly genuinely enjoying himself. For the Irish, this was an almost drug-like occurrence. A natural high, an unpolished euphoria, and maybe even some jobs, somehow, somewhere, would come out of it.
Within a matter of hours, the news arrived that Guinness and Diageo are going to cut jobs in Ireland. People had every right to be ecstatic while President Obama was in town, but only while he was in town. If they still felt high after he left, they ought to notice now that most of it was hallucinogenic. Jobs continue to be lost, notwithstanding the mother of all PR boosts.
And was it not slightly odd, ironic even, that Obama delivered his magnificent speech in Dublin in front of the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland, a bank to which most people in attendance share in having given billions of euro in rescue packages? Was this message of hope not delivered before a symbol of Ireland’s recent failures?
offset (v): 1. counteract (something) by having an equal and opposite force or effect.
It is pretty much accepted by all in the know that President Obama did not just have an Irish audience in mind as he was in Ireland. Rather, his primary concern was likely how the visit was perceived by voters back home in the States. All politics is local, and if it isn’t, most of it is.
A few days previously, Obama had mentioned “1967”, “borders” and “Israel” in the same speech. This was bold. Not ‘go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done’ bold, but more ‘put on your seatbelt, I’m about to go over the speed limit’ bold. In doing so, however, he managed to annoy a large swathe of American voters and the influential AIPAC group.
There will be an election next year, a contest in which Obama has already declared he will run. Obama’s folksy persona in Ireland may stand him in good stead with a fraction of voters. The dots are easy to connect.