FOUR MORE YEARS

9 November 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

There is traditionally great Irish interest in the United States Presidential election, and many of us will have woken up yesterday morning eager to learn the outcome of the contest between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney – or commenced our daily routine bleary-eyed from following the all-night coverage on radio and television.
The news that the American people have granted Mr Obama the “four more years” he craved will be broadly welcomed here.
Continuity of itself is no bad thing when it comes to maintaining diplomatic relations with a country that carries such important commercial and cultural links to Ireland as the USA does.
Mr Obama’s own ancestral ties with this country are well known, and were meaningfully reinforced on his brief visit here last year, even if the trip was of stop-over nature and had at least one eye on cultivating the Irish-American vote in the re-election campaign then looming.
The current US President has perhaps not been as influential in our affairs as predecessors such as Bill Clinton, whose tenure coincided with the momentous push for peace on this island and in which Mr Clinton was a powerful shoulder to the wheel when progress became bemired.
Changed circumstances have required – perhaps even forced – Mr Obama to be no more than a sympathetic and interested observer of an Ireland now preoccupied with economic struggles whose worldwide reach has dictated and circumscribed the course of his own presidency which, at its advent, overflowed with promise and expectation.
Co Monaghan people have a very real stake in the political fortunes of America – many do business there, and many have family members living and striving for prosperity Stateside.
They will have shared with the vast population of the US a journey over the last four years that seems to define the nature and limits of modern politics – and which perhaps contains some relevant, and cautionary, lessons for this country as we get nearer to changing fundamentally our own local political landscape.
The euphoric wave of hope that carried Mr Obama into office attained such heights that a riptide of disappointment was inevitable.
Political reach always exceeds its grasp, and the commerce of hope is a dangerous arena in which to trade.
Very few of the objectives which the new President set for himself were satisfactorily realised: the health care reforms he devoted so much time to pursuing gave him huge political troubles for ultimately compromised rewards, early talk of an ambitious nuclear disarmament initiative has lapsed into silence, and the lack of progress on his climate change agenda seemed to come back to cruelly mock him as Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the eastern seaboard in the concluding days of the campaign trail.
And the new President was as powerless as any national leader to meaningfully mitigate the impact on ordinary people of an overheated economy disintegrating into meltdown.
Although the extremes of its expectations and realities appear much greater, Mr Obama’s experience in office mirrors that of politicians everywhere, even down to the local stage: to obtain office you must make promises, to discharge your office you must make decisions.
Promises make you popular – decisions nearly always don’t, certainly not universally so: you’re always disappointing someone, and in the President’s case he probably disappointed more than most.
Yet Mr Obama was re-elected, in the end quite a degree more comfortably than was generally expected.
This may have been due to the recidivist nature of the alternative vision offered by Mr Romney, or to the fact that at key moments which united the focus of a profoundly disparate nation during his term, the incumbent was compellingly, reassuringly presidential, whether in his sensitive handling of the superstorm aftermath of recent weeks or his overseeing of the clinical retribution eventually exacted upon Osama Bin Laden.
Or it may have been that the majority of Americans who voted discerned with more sophistication than is sometimes attributed to them the difference between the promises and decisions that a politician makes.
US voters themselves decided, perhaps, that the man who spoke of a country without division had delivered sufficient flickers of his vision to let him try again.
In that there is perhaps a call to courage of conviction for politicians everywhere, a message that the practice of politics is not to be pursued purely as a popularity contest.

USE YOUR VOTE
As we customarily do on the eve of elections or referenda, we respectfully urge all our readers who have a vote to cast in this Saturday’s Children Referendum to use it.
Given the importance of the issue, and the complexities attaching to it, that vote should be a considered and informed one.
Both the complexity and significance of what we are being asked to do on Saturday is discernible from the very long time it took the Government to arrive at a form of words to be put before us in order to change the Constitution to give the rights of children greater legal force.
Instances of neglect of children in State care and other tragic occurrences which have surfaced in this country over recent times emphasise the need for improved provision in this regard.
It is for the voter to decide whether the form of words presented – and it is generally felt that the Government have been cautious in the terms of the amendment they have framed – will lead to the desired improvements in this area, and will result in the rights of children being better protected in the future.
Legislation that will flow from the amendment’s adoption, and decisions of precedent made in legal proceedings where children’s rights are a subject of determination, will ultimately bring about changes in this area, and it is perhaps difficult for the voter at this remove to anticipate with accuracy the outcomes that will follow from approving the text presented to them.
That text is complex, and the new Article 42A must be approved in its entirety by the voter – we cannot approve certain parts of it and reject others.
However, the elements of the proposal are well explained in the literature circulated to households by the Referendum Commission, which also outlines how the proposed change fits in with existing elements of the Constitution that deal with individual and family rights, and the right to education.
Saturday’s Referendum takes place against a background of great and legitimate concern about the adequate resourcing of childcare services, and a fear that decisions might be taken in the forthcoming Budget that will impact with further adversity on a range of services relevant to children and families.
Measures introduced in the Budget could have implications for the enactment of existing and future child protection legislation – but the need for such legislation to be strengthened is surely unquestionable.
We must make an informed choice on Saturday as to whether the new Article 42A is the means by which this objective can be best achieved.

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