Irish politics viewed from New York.

Today’s my last day in NY, and having watched a US election, and followed what’s going on at home, I thought I’d do a little comparative musing.

What’s really striking is that the US election is about choice. Despite all the far left sneering that the Dems and the GOP are both just corporate parties, there is a genuine difference in what is on offer. The GOP genuinely believes that the poor are, for the most part, morally responsible for their predicament. They also seem to believe, from a philosophical point of view, that having a large level of poverty is not a hindrance to a society’s progress. Unlike most European countries, Ireland included, it is acceptable in the US to be dismissive of a huge section of your fellow countrymen, a position that would not wash politically in most European countries (Except Belgium). Meanwhile in Ireland, I cannot tell the philosophical difference between FF and FG. This is not a theoretical thing either. It matters that FG regard the way the country is run as being pretty OK save for the fact that it is not them doing it. That’s no basis for a political party. That’s the basis for choosing guests to a dinner party.

Having said that, Americans take their politics seriously. On the top of the Rockefeller Centre, I listened to two security guards calmly discuss the candidates and propositions on the ballot the following day with a fluidity rare to Irish voters. Maybe that’s a random isolated example, but if you walk into an Irish bookstore, you are not overwhelmed by a selection of books suggesting political options. There are plenty of history books, and books sneering at politicans generally, but Fintan O’Toole aside, where are the big ideas books from our leading political figures?

The other striking thing is the way interested groups openly nail their colours to the mast. The chambers of commerce openly endorse Republicans. Unions openly endorse Democrats. In Ireland the best you get is a “contact all your TDs” which dilutes the point by letting govt TDs who vote for the opposed policy and then “call” for a “Review”, in yet another example of the Irish “Politicians: They’re all the same” mentality which has neutered Irish political debate. Would it not be more honest if some of the children’s rights NGOs actually told Barry Andrews to give them a date for the referendum, or they would actively campaign against him in his constituency? Somehow, that’s regarded in Irish politics as being unfair: Leave him alone! He’s only the minister! (The fact that many of them have their salaries paid indirectly by the minister they’re lobbying also plays a role, I suspect) But I bet he’d fill his trousers if he thought they’d do it. 

That’s not to say everything about US politics is superior. Good help us if we ever let campaign contributions and campaign spending completely dominate politics the way they do in the US, and a two party system, tidy and all as it is, restricts the choices that exist in a modern western society. On top of that, there is little on-street evidence of elections or participation in the way there is in Irish elections. But there is no shame in a Magpie-like lifting of the good stuff for use at home.

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