Hillary or Jeb? There are other choices to a dynastic succession
Why do we slavishly support Hillary Clinton?
Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30
More than 20 American presidents have had ancestral links to Ireland. The vast majority were from among Ulster-Scots frontiersman, which is why nationalists have mostly pretended they didn't exist. When we talk of Irish-America, we mean Catholic nationalist stock and the Democratic Party: no Prods or big 'R' Republicans need apply. We went wild for the Kennedys and we turned up our noses at Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the Bushes despite their Irish heritage.
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are our Irish presidents of choice, although Clinton has no Irish blood and Obama has only a drop. We've been ahead of the game on the right of people to be transracial: if they say they're Irish and we want them to be Irish, they're Irish.
Which is why the Irish nationalist tribe will be rooting for Hillary Clinton, who has no Irish blood but has been wooing us for more than 20 years and is fawned on by so-called leaders of Irish-America like Niall O'Dowd, who had her inducted into the Irish Hall of Fame by talking up her preposterous claim to have been an important player in the peace process.
Hillary is hard-working and academically bright, has zilch charisma, zero vision and is where she is because her brilliant, charming rogue of a husband - who was an able and effective president despite a few embarrassments - sprinkles magic dust on her.
Talking to two journalists the other night - one American and the other a long-time American resident - I asked for predictions. There was, about both of them, a sense of weary inevitability. Who knew who might win the Republican nomination and did it matter? Despite the whiff of greed and her dodgy mates, it would be Hillary in the White House and she would be a box-ticking president running a box-ticking bureaucracy.
She is, as Conrad Black put it rather neatly in a recent article, 'a one-trick pony' ("I'm a woman and I'm named Clinton") in a one-horse Democratic field. Hillary is 67, her closest challengers, Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, are 72 and 73 respectively. Biden is a no-hoper, but Sanders is a socialist of real substance on such issues as civil liberties and income inequality, and may cause multimillionaire Hillary some discomfort and push her leftwards.
Martin O'Malley (52) is the dark horse: a successful mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, and a Catholic of Irish descent who defied an archbishop over single-sex marriage, he plays in a Celtic rock band called O'Malley's March and is a much better candidate than Clinton.
The Republican field is enormous and, in theory, Jeb Bush should be way ahead but he has had a lacklustre start. He has a strong record as a businessman and as governor of Florida, where he had a hefty Hispanic and African-American following. His wife is Mexican, his Spanish is fluent and he is a Catholic convert, but though he is a fiscal and social conservative, he may be too liberal for the grassroots on immigration.
Cuban-America Catholic senator Marco Rubio (44), also fiscally and socially conservative, is loved by the Tea Party and is a brilliant speaker but may be sunk by embarrassing expenses issues. Scott Walker, a brave and effective governor of Wisconsin who defeated recalcitrant public sector unions, incurred ridicule when, in London, he was too scared of the creationist folks back home to say he believed in evolution.
There are plenty more interesting possibilities on the Republican side, but right now it is Donald Trump who is all over the media, having ignited the campaign with a launch performance of spectacular bragging ("I'm worth $8.7bn") and non-PC utterances, like this about Mexicans: "They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."
But while the internet is obsessed with what he has on his head ("We Shall Overcomb" and "Wigs on the Green"), he's a formidable opponent who will push other candidates rightwards. He will also exacerbate the Republican tendency for candidates to fillet each other, which will benefit Hillary, whom Democratic candidates are afraid to attack personally.
But with Hillary moving left and Jeb right, there might be a chance for some other talent to sneak through. As for the elephant in Hillary's and Jebs's rooms? I think Martin O'Malley got it right: "Let's be honest here, the presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families, it is an awesome and sacred trust that has to be earned, and exercised on behalf of the American people."
He might be worth a modest bet.