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We were just useful props in president's whirlwind electioneering roadshow

Last Thursday British MEP Sharon Bowles, the chairwoman of the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, said that she was outraged by the conditions imposed on Ireland regarding the interest rate on its EU loans. Yes, outraged!

She added that Ireland was being "treated harshly", was "taking one for the team", and she couldn't see any reason why lending countries should turn a three per cent profit [out of our misery]. And so say all of us.

How things have changed: last week, while eulogising about the visit of the Queen, my mother remembered: "And the one thing that got me up off the couch to change the channel in the days before remote controls was the sound of that awful God Save the Queen at the end of the night on BBC1."

But then to us the Union Jack (and anthem) has always represented colonisation, repression, imperialism, elitism etc, etc ... The US flag, on the other hand, is a shining symbol of democracy, egalitarianism, freedom, and of course equality.

Which makes it ironic that, of the two recent visitors to our shores, it was the latter to whom we bowed obsequiously as if to some sort of enlightened despot who must be charmed, obeyed, pandered to and never, ever questioned.

Not two weeks ago, we saw the Queen painstakingly copperfastening the results of the long, hard road to peace between our two nations: her visit here, all she said and did, and, more importantly, our reaction to her -- guarded at first, then gradually thawing as we grasped her sincerity -- demonstrated once and for all the present equality between our two nations.

No more do we need, or are expected, to tug the forelock to our bigger neighbour. Our future lies together, as equals.

And then we got the loquacious and debonair -- and yes, very sexy -- President Barack Obama who, despite the charming lack of ceremony, made it quite clear that we, as a small impoverished nation, are only as important to the US as we can be useful. We dare not question, we dare not criticise; all we can do is clap, cheer and hope that he will find it in his heart to throw us a few crumbs: to put a word in with the big boys in Europe for us, to remember that we exist.

And while he was here, ruthlessly using us for his own political gains as he smiled and laughed and hugged babies, our own Taoiseach was too cowed to even gently ask if Mr President knew anything about the US treasury secretary blocking an IMF plan to burn some bondholders, thereby adding greatly to the misery and poverty being experienced by thousands of Irish. Not much equality there.

This whirlwind condescending visit from the most powerful man on the planet was, necessarily, all about him. We were just props. Yes, much has been made of the fact that Obama came here to garner the Irish-American vote prior to the 2012 US presidential elections. And we wouldn't begrudge him an opportunity to do that. But there's never been any evidence that this group vote in a coherent pack.

No, what Obama was looking for was the blue-collar, hard done by, small-town white vote.

That was why the Moneygall Guinness-drinking 'moneyshot', if you will, was so important. That was why, when high winds threatened the helicopter trip to Offaly, it was decided that the Obamas would get there by road if need be and damn the thousands waiting for them at College Green (thankfully the wind lifted). This was the photo the Obama team had come to Europe for.

Why? Because Obama desperately needs the white working class to believe that he's one of them. He annoyed them something terrible when, at a fundraiser in cosmopolitan San Francisco, he described his difficulty winning over blue-collar white votes in Pennsylvania. He said: "And it's not surprising they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." And it wasn't surprising that Democratic Pennsylvania did a sharp turn toward the GOP after they heard him say that.

He later admitted to the New York Times that the comments were "boneheaded", but the damage was done.

In last November's midterm elections, 60 per cent of whites nationwide backed Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, and according to a National Journal analysis of exit poll data, these results may actually understate the extent of the 'white flight' from the Democratic Party.

While the killing of Osama bin Laden has certainly helped Obama's re-election prospects, the continuing debate about his ancestry, and birth, has not.

An astonishing amount of people still believe Obama is not a native-born American and/or that he is a practising Muslim. Nor has the impression that he is a cold, calculating, elitist helped raise his popularity with the blue-collar white vote he so desperately needs to attract.

So, it doesn't take much to imagine the excitement the Joshes and Tobys of the current White House must have felt when they realised how they could turn the news that Obama's great, great, great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, was from a small Irish town, to their leader's advantage.

Blue-collar working class? Check. History of clinging to religion and guns? Check. Documented Christian heritage? Check. Downing a pint of Irish stout with his 'cousins' in a small town to show the world how un-elitist he is? Check. Getting enough of the blue-collar white vote to ensure re-election next year? Well, he's now much nearer to putting a 'check' to that, too.

Not that there's anything wrong with Obama using Ireland to promote himself. But let's not get confused into thinking that Obama's visit in any way showed US support for us in our current economic quagmire. Let's not fantasise that Barack will argue our case with the French over our corporation tax or tell the Germans that bondholders should suffer some penalty for reckless gambling.

Obama didn't put his money where his mouth was. He didn't bother to explain if his treasury secretary had really vetoed the previous government's attempt to force a €30bn haircut on unguaranteed bondholders. Not a word about the undocumented Irish in the US.

So much for family ties. All those kisses and hugs and promises of support and love, all that loud talk of ties and affection? Waffle. Nice waffle, it has to be said. Enjoyable waffle. Harmless waffle, but waffle just the same.

There was no substance behind the style.

Compare it with Her Majesty's quiet, thoughtful, supportive sincerity; with powerful Sharon Bowles' outraged public comments about our treatment at the hands of the big boys, and then you get a real idea of who our true friends are.

Sunday Independent