Thursday 20 June 2019

Guess who's coming to dinner? Not one of those damn bankers


My daughter - I am not allowed to say which one - calls me most nights, just before Questions and Answers or Vincent Browne's Nightly News, to argue against my support for John McCain and in favour of Barack Obama. She rattles off her soundbites knowing I cannot respond because the shows are starting.

Tonight her soundbite goes: "The main reason you support McCain is because you can't stand the snobby types who attack Sarah Palin." This is so true that I begin to bluster defensively but have to hang up because John Bowman has assembled a panel so strong -- Noel Whelan, Alan Dukes, David McWilliams Joan Burton -- that it can even carry Peter Power, who is almost too cute for words, but let me try. Peter looks like a pixie.

The panel has much to say about the market meltdown. But I am more interested in the American election. Like my daughter, the panel all think Obama will win. And I suspect they are right.

Now, of course, I could hide behind the banking crisis which blew up in the past few weeks. But politicians must play the cards dealt by circumstance. And Obama's advisers have played his hand well.

But McCain can do better in tomorrow night's debate. All he has to do is to aim the missile of Main Street's anger against the banks and fire it at the fat cats on Wall Street.

Because right now even the most racist white American would probably prefer a re-make of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner where his daughter brought home a black rather than a banker.


Amazingly, McCain fails to focus American anger against the bankers. My frustration at this failure is shared by Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, the best political brain in America. O'Reilly rightly remarks that McCain should have said something like this: "When I am elected President I will appoint Rudi Giuliani as my Attorney General. I will instruct Giuliani go into the banks and into Wall Street, get the goods on them and charge the criminals and put them behind bars."

Had he done so he would have walked into the White House. So why didn't he? Most likely because his stupid spin doctors wanted him to look statesmanlike. And McCain cannot do statesman. McCain is a toughie like Truman not a toff like Jack Kennedy or Barack Obama.

How could McCain's advisers misjudge the public mood? America has never been socialist, but it has always been profoundly populist. From its movies and folksongs, it is plain that Main Street loathes bankers and loves bank robbers.

America has always respected bank robbers like Willie Sutton who, when asked by the FBI in 1933 why he robbed banks, responded simply: "Because that's where the money is."

Arrive back in Dublin. Go for swim in Seapoint. And get another lesson in why municipal services should be publicly provided and paid for by a return to rates.

At Seapoint the privatised Dun Laoghaire traffic wardens seem to be having their annual general meeting. There are no fewer than three of them tormenting swimmers (who only park for 10 minutes to take their daily dip). Seapoint is a softer target than ticketing the rest of the borough.

Later that night, as Vincent Browne starts on TV3, my daughter calls to say that if I download Martin Luther King's speech I will see that he refuses to play the racial victim. She claims that since Obama does the same he deserves to be the first black president.

To give my daughter her due, she does not see supporting him as a sop. As someone who has lived in America she believes a Barack Obama presidency will motivate the black middle class to make its mark on its own merits and give up playing on white guilt.

But she also aims her argument to get under my guard. She knows I firmly believe that professional victims -- be they Irish, black, northern nationalists, Palestinians or Israelis -- do terrible damage to themselves and those around them.

When she hangs up I am just in time to see George Hook bravely hold to his prediction that McCain will win. George would prefer a Democrat -- but he believes that is how the real politik of racism may work out.

George may be right. But if so, what are the moral implications of my own support for McCain? Do I want to be on the winning side if racism rules? No, I do not.

My problem is I would prefer almost any other black candidate to Obama. He lacks the common touch, has the Harvardy aloof air, and cannot conceal his sense of cerebral superiority. In sum -- and here I mean to pay both men a backhanded compliment -- he comes across like a black Fintan O'Toole.


Back in 1986 a book by the famous black economist Prof Thomas Sowell, exposing the flaws in Marxist economics, helped me escape from socialism. Today I come across an article by another black professor, Gerald L Early, who makes the case for Obama -- and supports my daughter's point that it could curtail the corrosive black victim culture.

"Many of us black professionals, members of the black elite, keep the embers of our victimization burning for opportunistic reasons: to leverage white patronage, to maintain our own sense of identity and tradition. We have used it shamelessly -- especially those who are least entitled to do so, as we have suffered the least -- hustled it to get over on whites, to milk their guilt, to excuse our excesses and failures. Being the victim justifies all ethical lapses, as the victim becomes morally reprehensible in the guise of being morally outraged."

Early argues that since racism had an historical beginning it must also have an historical end. "But how would we know when we have reached it? What sign would show that we have arrived at, in effect, the end of America's racial history? And he answers: "Might the presidency of Barack Obama be the tipping point?"

Convincing. But I delay telling my daughter that her dad got it wrong. In fact I may merely say she got it right. And hope she won't see through the spin doctoring. Some hope. As the French say: You can fool your mother, your wife, your mistress -- but you can't fool your daughter.


Today's Irish Times carries an interview with Robert Shapiro, Obama's economic adviser. This shows Obama's camp steering a controlled social-democratic course in the current crisis, mediating the market with careful political interventions. By contrast, McCain's advisers are amateurs.

As I come to this depressing conclusion my daughter calls to make sure I have not missed the interview. But when I finally get her off the phone my wife starts in from the other side. She says that while Obama would look like a president, McCain would act like one.

Pity me. Caught between the devil of my daughter and the deep blue sea of my spouse's eyes, I am a man much torn and tossed by the Lord.

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