Saturday 14 December 2019

Four more years, and plenty of challenges

Yesterday, in the speech marking the beginning of his second term as President of the United States, Barack Obama delivered a message which was long on rhetoric but short on detail.

He summoned to his aid the most sacred of American texts, the Declaration of Independence. He insisted that economic recovery has begun, and declared that the American people, with their constitutional liberty and equality of opportunity, were in an ideal position to profit from it. He repeated his assertion that his country's possibilities are limitless.

Almost hidden under these pleasing statements came two messages of a more political kind: a tribute to the middle class, and an appeal for national unity.

The "squeezed middle" found incomes falling under George W Bush, looked forward to better times in Mr Obama's first term, and were disappointed. They still wait.

National unity will be a harder nut to crack. Republicans are still bewildered by the scale of their November election defeat. They have to decide whether to absorb its lessons or continue a campaign of obstruction in Congress.

Abroad, Mr Obama faces as many troubles as he did when he first took office – most of them inherited, but some the result of his mistakes. He has openly expressed his irritation with the European Union's slow progress towards a solution of the debt crisis. If he can persuade Europe to act with greater vigour, so much the better for everyone.

On the enduring friendship of one ally – albeit an ally without military or financial clout – he can certainly rely.

Ireland's 'special relationship' with the United States is based on friendship, ties of blood, and sentiment. But it has a pragmatic as well as a sentimental aspect. American investment here has been one of the greatest drivers of our economic progress, and when recovery begins, the multinationals – with their Irish workers – will be in the forefront.

As luck would have it, Mr Obama will be in Fermanagh in June, at the G8 summit. Coincidentally, leading members of the Kennedy family will be in Wexford for the 50th anniversary of America's first Catholic President, John F Kennedy.

Perhaps the President would like to make the short journey from Fermanagh to Wexford? It would be appropriate. "Equal opportunity", it is not just a slogan; it was, and still is, a reality for Irish emigrants. And nobody speaks of it with more feeling than the first African-American President.

Irish Independent

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