'Irish-American Vote' Does Not Exist - Obama Has Only Come for the Photo Op

Daily Mail (London), May 23, 2011 | Go to article overview

'Irish-American Vote' Does Not Exist - Obama Has Only Come for the Photo Op


Byline: The Mary Ellen Synon COLUMN

JUST before Air Force One touches down, I'll say it again, even though the facts never manage to penetrate the vanity of the Irish: there is no such thing as the Irish-American vote.

Chasing such a vote is not why President Obama is here. He has political reasons for the visit, sure, and I'll get to those in a moment.

The Irish Independent can claim President Obama is here 'to woo Irish-American voters' and that his popularity 'is likely to soar among the Irish-American vote in the U.S. when he addresses the Irish people'. The Examiner can claim the Irish-American vote 'will be vital' in the election. But here is the thing: ask any journalist on either paper, or on any paper, where his statistics are that indicate that the tens of millions of Americans with Irish ancestry vote in a distinctive way.

He won't be able to give you a single fact indicating any such thing, because 'the Irish-American vote' does not exist.

It is a myth kept alive by the Irish need to feel they are somehow uniquely influential in America. They are not. But their vanity won't let them admit it.

Still, you don't need to take it from me, although my experience of American politics goes back pretty far. (An aside: we have now learned details of the sleazy behaviour of the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Among other things we now know he fathered a child by his family's housekeeper.

Sad how that office has become tarnished. I have fond memories of sitting on the lap of the Governor of California.

But it was a different governor. And different times.) As I say, you don't have to take it from me that there is no such thing as an Irish-American vote. In 2008 I rang Michael Barone, a nationally-known American political analyst and the principal author of The Almanac Of American Politics, the Bible for election number-crunchers.

Breakdowns

I asked Mr Barone if there were an identifiable 'Irish-American vote'. His answer, as I reported it at the time: 'No, nor is there an Irish position on some major national issue that would make this a distinctive voting group.' He agreed that Irish-Americans have simply been absorbed into the general mass of middle-class white people. And there are no Irish issues in national American politics.

Now I see that last week Trina Vargo was saying the same thing. Miss Vargo is the founder and president of the U.S.-Ireland Alliance and former foreign policy advisor to the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Here she is, writing for the Democrat-loving Huffington Post, in a piece welcoming President Obama's visit to Ireland: 'The thing is, there is no "Irish vote". Irish-Americans are Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Protestants, and there are no galvanising issues around which a significant number of them rally.

'You don't find breakdowns of voting on the basis of ethnicity, except for the Latino vote. When people suggest x per cent of Irish-Americans voted a certain way, you'll likely find they simply take the percentage of Catholics that voted a certain way and call that the Irish vote.

'But that is spurious. More than half of Irish-America is Protestant. And the Irish are but one segment of the Catholic vote. Latinos now make up the largest segment of that vote, which also includes Italians, French and Poles. So you can't simply take the Catholic vote and suggest that it is Irish. Nor can you assume that all Irish-Catholics vote the same way.' Too right you can't. The most prominent American politician of Irish descent in recent years was Miss Vargo's own Ted Kennedy. It was he, more than any other politician, who was responsible for legislating to allow federally-funded abortions: and that means millions of abortions.

One Catholic American voter - not an Irish-American - has described Ted Kennedy to me as 'an abortion pimp'. That is pretty much how he was viewed by many Catholic, and Protestant, American voters.

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