Monday, May 05, 2008

So he is Barack O'Bama after all

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan comes up with an interesting analogy for why Barack Obama should get a little slack for having sat through Jeremiah Wright's sermons --

This week I talked to a young man, an Irish-American to whom I said, "Am I wrong not to feel anger about Wright?" He more or less saw it as I do, but for a different reason, or from different experience.

He said he figures Mr. Wright's followers delight in him the same way he delights in the Wolfe Tones, the Irish folk group named for the 18th-century leader condemned to death by the British occupying forces, as they say on their Web site. They sing songs about the Brits and how they subjugated the Irish and we'll rise up and trounce the bastards.

My 20-year-old friend has lived a good life in America and is well aware that he is not an abused farmer in the fields holding secret Mass in defiance of the prohibitions of the English ruling class. His life has not been like that. Yet he enjoys the bitterness. He likes going to Wolfe Tones concerts raising his fist, thinking "Up the Rebels." It is good to feel that old ethnic religious solidarity, and that in part is what he is in search of, solidarity. And it's not so bad to take a little free-floating anger, apply it to politics, and express it in applause.

He knows the dark days are over. He just enjoys remembering them even if he didn't experience them. His people did.

I know exactly what he feels, for I felt the same when I was his age. And so what? It's just a way of saying, "I'm still loyal to our bitterness." Which is another way of saying, "I'm still loyal." I have a nice life, I'm American, I live far away, an Englishman has never hurt me, and yet I am still Irish. I can prove it. I can summon the old anger.

One could extend the thought. It's not just Irish traditional music where this happens. The crowds always seem very into the defiance of "Irish Blood, English Heart" at Morrissey concerts. On the other hand, it's worth asking whether the Wolfe Tones represented a posture or a real political position -- and if it's the latter, then it's a political position long since dumped in Ireland during the time of the Great Helmsman, Bertie Ahern.

But prior to that, were they a harmless outlet for vestigial nationalism, or a ready recourse for sloganeering and cynical opposition to change? The relevance for Barack Obama is whether he might realize that doing things he wants to do might involve turning his back on things that were part of his identity for a long time.

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