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Sunday Political Brunch: The Irish Connection - January 7, 2018

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GALWAY, IRELAND – It was apparent in my trip to Ireland, that there is still great reverence for U.S. President John F. Kennedy. While there have been a number of U.S. Presidents with Irish lineage, he is certainly the one who was essentially 100 percent Irish, and Catholic as well. The Irish have had a huge footprint on U.S. politics, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Kennedy Bust – Galway” – President Kennedy visited Ireland in June of 1963, just five months before he was assassinated. Just two years later in Galway, a monument was dedicated in his honor (photo above). In June 1965, it was announced that the park at Eyre Square in Galway would be renamed he "John F. Kennedy Memorial Park." I was there this past week and photographed the bust of JFK. It is amazing to me that 50-plus years after his death he remains such a revered figure at home, and abroad. We saw other photos and memorials to President Kennedy as well, including at the Claddagh Museum.

“Reagan” – The history of Ronald Reagan reminds me of that great musical lyric by the famed “Irish Rovers,” that I heard while I was in Dublin: “It is the biggest mix-up you have ever seen, my father he was orange and my mother she was green.” In Reagan’s case, it was the opposite. His dad was an Irish Catholic from Tipperary (green), and his mom was an English/Scottish Protestant (orange). Either way, Reagan treasured his Irish roots and loved his Irish whiskey and card playing with House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D-MA). While they were political foes, they had a pact to be “friends after 5 O’clock!” Oh, to be a fly on the wall for those get togethers!

“Retail Politics” – Tip O’Neill’s bromide about, “All politics is local” still rings true today. Members of Congress may run on national issues, but it’s really bringing home the bacon in their individual districts that really matters. I’ve covered controversial figures such as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who were very popular at home, but derided elsewhere. People always asked me, “How do they keep getting elected?” Well, the mail gets delivered on time and no one’s Social Security check gets lost. A good Congressional office makes that happen for the folks at home. For the boss, it’s political gold!

“You Wanna Be Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – The theme song from the popular TV show “Cheers” is a classic example of Boston-Irish politics. I remember being at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000, at a breakfast where Senator Ted Kennedy got up and led the crowd in singing some popular Irish songs. People ate it up. You got the sense this is how he worked the Irish pubs in Massachusetts. The Kennedy’s were good at this - “I am a man of the people in a pub; even though I’m unspeakably rich!” It’s now in its it fourth generation. The last time I interviewed the latest family member, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) in 2013, he looked me in the eye and said, “Just call me Joe!” The Irish charm is enduring.

“The Kennedy Magic” – I found it fascinating that 54 years after the Kennedy assassination, he’d still be such a revered figure in Ireland. But as the most Irish President – and the only Catholic President in U.S. history - he’s still something of an anomaly and that is enduring for a lot of people. I remember meeting Senator Ted Kennedy when I worked in the U.S. Senate in 1993. He was with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk when we met, and really wanted me to talk to Kirk, and not Kennedy. His son Rep Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) was very much the same way, wanting to focus on the people around him and not the Kennedy name. It was weird, but probably a strategy aimed at humility. It’s an ironic, but effective brand.

“O’Clinton” – President Clinton’s family life was complicated, to say the least, but he was an Irishman! His father William Blythe, died three months before Clinton’s birth. His mom was Virginia Cassidy who later married Roger Clinton, Sr., the future President’s stepfather. In any case, with the Blythe and Cassidy bloodlines, Bill Clinton had plenty of Irish in him. He went to Catholic elementary school, but later practiced as a Protestant. Maybe all this family conflict was his motivation for Northern Ireland peace. He appointed former Senator George Mitchell, (D-ME) to negotiate the Good Friday Accords between waring Catholic and Protestant factions in Belfast in 1998. We took a Black Cab Tour of Belfast in December and our cabbie Tom – a lifelong Belfast resident – said, “It’s a million times better!” though more work needs to be done.

“O’Bama” – In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. We all know, it was a bit more complicated than that. His dad, Barack Obama, Sr, was black and from Kenya, while his mom, was white and from Kansas. Her name was Ann Dunham and she was of Irish, German, Scottish, Welsh, and Swiss decent. But it was clear, the future President’s Irish bloodlines were strong.

“This Irish Reporter” – I’ve been blessed. Now in my 41st year in mass media, I’ve had the privilege of covering so many of the politicians named here – Irish – or not! Politics is colorful in many communities, and I’m proud of my Irish heritage and the people I’ve met because of it. But politics – like so many of our big cities – is a melting pot, constantly evolving and changing. I’ve been blessed to cover so much of it. More to come!

“Why All This Matters” – You must wonder, how much does ethnic politics still matter in the U.S. and elsewhere? Walls and fences, you’d never thought would budge, are now coming down. As I’ve always pointed out, more white American voter cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008, than voted for Al Gore in 2000 or for John Kerry in 2004. Then again, for a long time it was hard to fathom winning a Mayor’s race in such Irish strongholds as Boston or Chicago, without winning the Irish vote. Today, Rahm Emmanuel – a Jew – is Mayor of Chicago; and for 21-years until his death in 2014 – Mayor Tom Menino, an Italian, presided over Boston. So, the times, they’ve been a’ chnagin!

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, and analyst based in West Virginia.

Sunday Political Brunch: The Top Political Stories of the Year - December 31, 2017

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DUBLIN, IRELAND – I had to go overseas to think about this. To clear my head, and view the United States from afar! It’s been a wild year on the political roller coaster. So, let’s “brunch” on the top political stories of the year, in no particular order.

“Trump Trumps Trump” – Love him, or loathe him – and there are plenty of both – but clearly the top political story of the year was Donald J. Trump taking the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States. It’s still surreal. I only know of a few political operatives in either party who truly believed Trump would win. But he defied conventional wisdom; he defied political odds; and, heck he just about defied gravity, but he won. The year has been combative and controversial, with you constantly wondering what he will do, or say next. As a journalist its fascinating, because if nothing else, he generates copy. I’ve never seen anything quite like this in my forty years in the news business.

“Land of the Tweets” – There were a lot of us in the media, as well as in the political party class, and in the political punditry field, that hoped that President Trump would act more “Presidential” and quit the daily, “Trump Tweetfest.” It hasn’t stopped, and I don’t think it will stop. This is a “new normal” for Presidential communications, and as much as people hate it, I bet it becomes an essential part of the new media landscape as the “fireside chat.” I don’t like it, but I can’t fight it.

“Scandal” – The top news story this year, and indeed Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, were the silence breakers. The people who came forward to report sexual abuse, misconduct, assault, harassment, or other forms of abuse. It seems like every day someone from the worlds of politics, entertainment, news media, music, culinary arts, industry, business, high-tech, and beyond are being named and shamed for sexual misconduct in the workplace. It’s remarkable and profound, and will probably change workplaces everywhere, for the better. In politics, it ended the careers of Senator Al Franken, (D) Minnesota; Representative John Conyers, (D) Michigan; Senate nominee Judge Roy Moore (R) Alabama; Representative Joe Barton, (R) Texas; Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) Texas, and more. Even a female Congressional candidate, Andrea Ramsey, Democrat of Kansas, had to withdraw over sexual harassment allegations. Where does it stop?

“Women’s March on Washington (and Elsewhere)” – Speaking of which, one of the people accused of, (and in some cases admitting sexual misbehavior), was candidate, and now President Donald Trump. The release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes a month before the election in 2016 was seen by many pundits (including me) as the end of the Trump campaign. It wasn’t; he won anyway. The outrage prompted a huge women’s march on Washington, DC, as well as in many cities across the nation. The backlash is still being felt. The ouster of Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota, and his replacement by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, (D) Minnesota, means the U.S. Senate will have 22 women Senators, the highest number in history. Coincidence? I think not.
“When the Rules Don’t Rule” – The battle for philosophical control of the U.S. Supreme Court has been going on for ages, and always will. A President may last only eight years, but a Supreme Court Justice can serve for decades. So, too, can other federal judges. For years, the Senate rules mandated you really needed 60 votes to approve a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The rule was you needed 60 votes to invoke cloture, to cut off debate, and call the vote. But Senate Democrats who were in the majority for part of the Obama Administration, made it a simple majority for District Court and Appellate Court Judges. That infuriated Republicans, so much so, that when Justice Antonin Scalia died, they refused to hold hearings on President Obama’s pick to replace him. Donald Trump won the White House; Senate Republicans changed the rules; and, Neil Gorsuch was easily elevated to the US. Supreme Court. A classic Washington power-play.

“Conscience Over Party” – Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, Republicans have vowed and voted several times to repeal it in both the House and the Senate, only to have President Obama veto the death of his legacy legislation. In 2017, you had the “perfect storm” with the GOP in charge at the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. You’d think Obamacare repeal would be a snap. But maverick Senator John McCain, (R) Arizona torpedoed the repeal with his famous “thumbs down” no vote. McCain, who lost the 2008 Presidential campaign to Barack Obama, still thought repeal (as constructed) was a bad idea. Of course, McCain is no Trump fan either, so was it tit-for-tat?” Paybacks can he hell on Capitol Hill.

What are your top political stories of 2017? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political author analyst and reporter. He is currently Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar TV stations serving West Virginia.

© 2017 Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

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