C: White House

The varsity homecoming

It is tempting, sometimes, to over-react to things that are, in the grand scheme of the world, relatively trivial. Regular readers of this column will know its views on that most Irish of things: The unshakeable national consensus. We lived through it, in recent years, on matters as serious as Brexit, Covid 19, and, until recently, immigration and the Ukraine war. When the unshakeable national consensus forms, the safest thing for a normal person to do is basically the same thing as the safest thing for a normal person to do in the face of a herd of rampaging bulls: Get out of the way, and hide.

There is, of course, a basically unshakeable national consensus about Joe Biden: He likes Ireland, therefore, we like him. They naysayers, such as they are, can safely be dismissed as crackpots and cranks and ne’erdowells – the kind of people who’d stand up at that bit of a wedding where it is universally accepted that you absolutely do not stand up, even if you happen to have spotted the bride or the groom being somewhat surprisingly affectionate with a bridesmaid or groomsman the night before.

As I wrote last week, the argument that Biden is here primarily for domestic political reasons holds no water with the public, because most Irish people would welcome him even more if they thought – as many in fact do – that by doing so they were contributing to the defeat of Donald Trump. The argument, oft made from the left, that Biden is some kind of warmongering, gun-toting, Imperialist Thug holds no water because of course, we simply refuse to accept that this could be true: Even if Biden’s positions on things like Gun Control and Israel are much too right wing for the Irish taste, we comfort ourselves with the belief that he doesn’t really believe those things, and is in fact just saying what you have to say to get elected in America.

We see what we want to see: a kindly old man who likes us. And that is good enough for most people, for better or for worse.

And yet there is something more to it than that. The idolisation of Biden on the Irish soft left – which comprises almost the entirety of the political and media establishment – is about more than simply admiring his love of Ireland. It is, I think, about wanting a piece of the action.

There is a reason so many of the Irish culture wars du jour have their roots in similar battles playing out across the United States: Immigration, Transgenderism, Abortion, Gay Rights, Race relations and “privilege”, gender quotas, hate speech and hate crime – all of them have their roots in the United States, where all of them are live and real battles, which must be fought by the American left with every sinew of their being. In Ireland, by contrast, those fighting those battles must invent a largely imaginary – and entirely unelected – “far right”. We are a country with a vast oversupply of “goodies” and a vast shortage of real “baddies”. The baddies must therefore be invented.

Biden, by contrast, is fighting daily an honest to goodness political knife fight against people who genuinely believe, for example, that abortion should be restricted, and that criminals should spend years in prison, and that there are only two genders, and that free speech should be absolute. Unlike the victories of Irish progressives, which are largely achieved without much opposition, Biden’s victories or defeats have international significance. The overturning of Roe v Wade, for example, is something that simply could not happen here, at least for the foreseeable future. And in their souls, that leaves Irish progressives feeling a little empty. There’s no point being a culture warrior when the war isn’t there to fight. Biden defeated an honest to god, actual, living and breathing Donald Trump. Our lads have to content themselves with fighting people on Telegram who they claim have “Trump like” politics.

Fintan O’Toole wrote, the other day, that Biden’s Catholicism is “out of step” with the Ireland he is now visiting. I would argue that this is entirely untrue: Biden is in many ways the perfect Irish catholic – someone who wears their religion on their sleeve as a mark of cultural identity, but who has the courage to move past what the religion actually teaches. Fintan O’Toole has clearly never heard of Mary McAleese, for example, who is catholic in exactly the same way that Biden is. The good kind of catholic – the one who makes a point of contradicting the core tenets of their faith to show that they are a modern catholic.

All of this, I think, explains the latest unshakeable national consensus. In American terms, Biden is the NFL quarterback returning to his old high school to show the Junior Varsity players what can be achieved in the big leagues. He’s the guy competing against Tom Brady every week, while our chaps are the guys tossing backyard passes to the dog. Officially, it’s diplomacy. Unofficially, and as ever, it’s about what does this say about us (TM). Joe Biden and Rachel Maddow is who they want to be. But Varadkar, Martin, Bacik, and Fintan O’Toole is who they are.

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