I covered President Bill Clinton’s visit to Derry in 1995 for the AP. It was a key moment on the road to the Northern Ireland peace accords; Clinton – and the United States – were officially invested in the process.
In Belfast, Clinton made nice with both sides, doing his thing, making enemies feel good about themselves.
But, unusually for the triangulator, he let himself tip a little in Derry, not just by visiting the Catholic majority city – but by calling it Derry. (It’s official British name is Londonderry.) It might have been cynical – Irish Catholics in the United States tend to vote ethnic to a much greater extent than "Scotch Irish," the term Americans of Protestant Irish descent use – but it seemed real enough to me. Ireland was where his pre-American roots were, after all. And he has a thang for romantics.
I stood on a podium at the back of the crowd, and noticed an American reporter decked out – from beret to boots – in green. And grinning.
"Who is that?" I asked someone from the Washington Post.
"Maureen Dowd," she said. "She’s into her Irish roots."
No kidding. Her next column began something like, "My mother’s going to vote for Bill O’Clinton," and was probably the most unmitigatedly flattering column she ever wrote about a president she otherwise seemed to loathe.
She looked like a leprechaun. A cute leprechaun, but still. I remember thinking: What if Bill Safire traveled with Clinton to Israel decked out like a prophet? Flowing robes and staff and all? What if he started a column, "My mother’s going to vote for Bill Clintohen?"
Now there’s this profile at Irish Central. Dowd, famously reticent about her personal life, lets all the Irish hang loose for the landsmen, gabs about the medal she has that she believes hung around Michael Collins’ neck when he was killed, and lets them use a picture of a two-year-old herself decked out in a shamrock.
I’d love to see an influential Jewish columnist get away with that. Tom Friedman wearing a ring fashioned from the bullet that killed Trumpeldor? Richard Cohen peddling his bar-mitzvah photos?
More than a century ago, American Jews asked Mark Twain how a minority should behave in this great, young nation. Like the Irish, he essentially said:
In America, as early as 1854, the ignorant Irish hod-carrier, who had a spirit of his own and a way of exposing it to the weather, made it apparent to all that he must be politically reckoned with; yet fifteen years before that we hardly knew what an Irishman looked like. As an intelligent force and numerically, he has always been away down, but he has governed the country just the same. It was because he was organized. It made his vote valuable – in fact, essential.
We have catching up to do.
UPDATE: Philip Weiss, who lives his blogospheric life like a refugee from an Eisenstein film – that is, in a state of such outrage that his jaws are perpetually slack – apparently has forgotten the sensation of mouth clamped shut, tongue locked firmly in cheek. He thinks this post is disgraceful.
Okay, I’ll make it clear. I don’t actually want to see Bill Safire robed as a prophet. In fact, I’ll admit it, it’s a sight that would probably ruin me for life.
So here’s the thing: A lot of influential Jewish journalists will, on occasion, wear their ethnic/religious identity on their sleeves. But not like this. The conflict in Ireland is complex and confounding; the Unionists, however awful their tactics, however Chauvinist their outlook, had a point, at least before Ireland became more European than Europe, about being swallowed up into a parochial Roman Catholic maw.
Meantime, the New York Times’ second most influential columnist has a Michael Collins fetish.
Weiss’ examples are less than convincing. Elliott Abrams is not a journalist (and apparently not the bogey man he was made out to be.) Jeff Goldberg and Eric Alterman are critical of Israel’s policies (ditto Friedman, Cohen and yes, even Safire, when it came to Israel’s China policy); not to a degree of Weiss’ liking, I’m sure, but I don’t remember any of them traipsing around a press conference dressed like Mordechai.
I’m not endorsing this behavior: I’m just wondering why Jews shy away from it when a lot of folks think its dandy. It’s not just Dowd: Try getting through an hour of Rick Sanchez without a reference to the extended Cuban family.
Or maybe – like the kid with the boring, happy parents who secretly resents her friend’s complaints about the eccentric relatives – I am endorsing it. In a sick "I want a crazy uncle too" kind of way.
*Paul Krugman, I think, has assumed first place.