Was it just me or were those speeches by Barack and Michelle Obama neatly constructed sets of clichés? I know it sort of spoils the party mood we’re all in but we need to face facts, and there’s no point in looking to the telly-speech-summarisers for critical commentary.
In Obama’s case, I’m not talking about his mispronunciation of my home town as ‘o-MAGH’. Nor am I talking about his “Where’s Sylvia?” moment where the gate-in-the-wall woman proved as elusive as world peace and viewers didn’t know which way to look. I’m talking about the content of his speech. What did he say? We should all empathise with each other and work together, and our country would see greater days ahead. Which country did he have in mind? Well he ended by calling on God to bless Northern Ireland, but a breath earlier he was talking about ‘the Emerald Isle’. Ambiguity where necessary and exhortation that sounded like an early Alliance Party speech.
Meanwhile back in Dublin, Michelle was in the Gaiety Theatre, talking to her group of young people. “You can be anything!” she told them. All that was needed was imagination. And hard work. And the resilience to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. Worthy if not exactly new material. I wonder what the tens of thousands of young people who’ve emigrated from the south (and north) would have made of it. Would they have accepted that they were thousands of miles away in Canada or Australia because they lacked imagination? Or that they hadn’t worked hard enough? Or that they hadn’t shown the necessary staying power?
It’s good to emphasise that people are responsible for their own lives, must make the best of them since we get just one shot at it each. But it’s misleading to suggest that it’s all up to you, because it isn’t. The young people aren’t in Australia or Canada because of what they did or didn’t do. They’re there because Irish banks, facilitated by the Irish government, overspent on a lunatic scale. They’re there because the crushing debt load was landed on the shoulders of the people who’d had nothing to do with riding the wave of massive prosperity that swept through the south for a few short years. Yes, we all hold enormous untapped possibilities within us. But there are circumstances created by others which make all our imaginings and hard work and dusting-self-off utterly and completely futile. And if you doubt me, answer me this: will you ever spend two or three days living as high on the hog as the G8 people are doing down in Fermanagh? Right. I rest my argument.