Wednesday 19 December 2018

Jody Corcoran: Beware the backlash in 'smug' abortion debate

There is a common thread between Trump's speech, abortion and the shambolic roll-out of broadband, writes Jody Corcoran

Response: Joseph Kennedy. Photo: Reuters
Response: Joseph Kennedy. Photo: Reuters
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

There may seem little to connect the political events of last week, but when you look closer at the State of the Union address in the US, the abortion debate here and the discussion around the future of rural Ireland, as represented by the shambles that is broadband roll-out, there is a common issue that has still not been settled, a divide that is, if anything, growing to a more dangerous level.

Generally speaking, that common issue relates to the future and past, what should be embraced and discarded and whether competing factions created by social discord can ever again rally, as before, to a widely unifying cause or political way forward.

More so than President Trump's address, people here, I imagine, were interested in the Democrats' official response delivered by the scion of the Kennedy dynasty, Joseph Kennedy III, grandson of Bobby and grandnephew of John and Ted.

Congressman Kennedy, aged 37, was chosen by the Democrats' hierarchy to deliver what is usually an immediately forgettable task. The decision to choose Kennedy, however, did give us an insight into the flailing Democrats' thinking.

By many accounts, the red-haired, square-jawed Kennedy is a sensible man. He will not be the Democrats' candidate to challenge Trump next time, however. Potential candidates do not get to respond to the State of the Union, as it would confer on them an unfair advantage over rivals. But Kennedy would seem to be in the frame as a future candidate - the Democrats' way forward, as it were.

In his speech he pressed all the right buttons, in shirt sleeves in front of an old Ford Mustang, hood up, that told of old manufacturing industry, but without going into detail or rising to the rhetorical heights of his forbears. He is clearly in the liberal tradition of the Kennedy clan, though, and of the Democrats, which in itself is no bad thing.

That said, he is male, white, wealthy and privileged and of the Establishment. So, in the US, his background and status has already identified him, and given rise to questions as to whether such a person should really represent the future of the Democrats.

The argument against asks whether the Democrats should be bothered at all to attract the support again of blue-collar white men who rallied to Trump's discordant call, or whether they should concentrate instead on building a base predominantly comprising African Americans, Latinos, members of the LGBTQ community and women of all classes who are struggling for equality and justice. In other words, the Democrats are still racked by the competing factions who unintentionally delivered us Trump in the first place.

A similar theme underlays, but for the most part is unstated, in the abortion debate here.

Supporters of Repeal the Eighth have been loud, even aggressive, and as a result successful in getting the abortion issue, and other ''liberal'' causes on the agenda here; more successful than conservatives, and successful also in cowing the middle ground, where I unashamedly stand.

After decades, indeed centuries, on the back foot, so-called progressives would seem to have little time for anybody they presume to be standing in their way now that their agenda is on an ever-forward march.

That way can lead to a comeuppance, however, as Hillary Clinton discovered to her cost.

So when Danny Healy-Rae, on RTE, and Willie O'Dea, on TV3, spoke last week in defence of a legitimately held belief that the constitution should retain some form of protection of the unborn, they were insidiously dismissed as rural Ireland backwoodsmen.

This throwing of the progressive eye heavenwards, or speaking through a gritted teeth smile - body language and words - betrays an irritating, not to say smug, attitude, in that it indicates a general dismissal of the metaphorical rural Ireland, its traditions, beliefs and concerns.

Now that the Catholic Church has been ''defeated'', it seems that the march of the progressive agenda has placed rural Ireland in its crosshairs.

Consequently, that Ireland is dismissed as behind the times, in much the same way as Hillary Clinton took for granted, or dismissed, the blue-collar, mostly male, working class who abandoned her assumptions for the likes of Donald Trump.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, is the latest to come in for such criticism for giving a voice to the concerns of the middle ground, however belatedly and ill thought out.

The Repeal the Eighth campaign would do well to take note, however, that those concerns are neither predominantly rural-based nor dominated by any social class; or to put it another way, proportionally there are as many in Dublin 4 as in Killorglin, Co Kerry concerned for the protection of the unborn.

Those concerns need to be addressed, face on, with science and facts, and not dismissed in frustration bordering on contempt.

Instead, rural Ireland is demonised as regressive for holding the seemingly outrageous view that the unborn should have some form of protection in law.

This takes us to the issue of the roll-out of rural broadband, which received another blow last week and caused a bit of ''jump up and down'' but not much more, as has been the case for almost 20 years.

The national broadband plan has been in the pipeline since 2012, although talked about for a decade before; but it will be 2023, at the earliest, before rural Ireland is connected - or at least that was the plan before Eir withdrew from the contest last week.

As an issue, the connectivity of rural or the ''other'' Ireland if you prefer, will fade from the limelight in weeks, lost in the red mists of an abortion referendum. These days, there is always something more pressing than the traditions, beliefs and concerns of rural Ireland.

The Democrats in the US made the same mistake: they took the rednecks for granted until the rednecks struck back. Rural Ireland's backwoodsmen, and women, may similarly upend the onward march of progressive Ireland if left unattended to.

And that really would be a pity because minorities, the LGBT community and women of all classes have waited long enough - too long. It seems lost on them, however, that the causes, or struggles, of rural Ireland, which have been exacerbated since the crash, are also to do with justice and equality, and, as such, should be the causes of us all, and not just a cause for insidious ridicule and discontent.

Sunday Independent

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