Obama in Ireland: Uplifting—and Shrewd

Obama in Ireland: Uplifting—and Shrewd

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Say this about President Barack Obama: He’s a shrewd politician who is making the most of his multi-cultural heritage and perhaps even solidifying early support among white voters heading into the 2012 presidential campaign.

Take Obama’s trip to Ireland, for example, where this week the president celebrated his Irish roots and visited the tiny village of Moneygall – the home of his great, great, great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1850.

One writer called Obama America’s first black-Irish president.

"My name is Barack Obama - of the Moneygall Obamas," Obama told a crowd in Dublin, "and I've come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way."

Obama, ever the skilled political strategist, never misses an opportunity to court voters, no matter how far away from the United States he travels.

But in Moneygall, population 300, while shaking hands with his Irish ancestors, Obama and his political team were probably thinking about the millions of Iris- American voters here in the United States, many of whom are still trying to decide if Obama deserves a second term in the White House.

It was the pre-campaign portion of Obama’s trip to Ireland, reminding Irish voters in America that he has an ancestral connection to their country and build on the good will when he returns home.

This week, Obama embraced the white side of his family. His mother was white and his father Kenyan. As a multi-cultural president, Obama can claim he’s the president for all Americans because, in fact, he embodies a multi-cultural society.

“It was nice to see the president welcomed so warmly by the Irish in Ireland,” Joan Walsh wrote for Salon.com. “Obama also referenced the 'unlikely friendship' between Ireland's 'Great Liberator' Daniel O'Connell and American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave.”

Obama didn’t forget his black roots. In fact, the president made a point of putting his visit to Ireland into historical and racial perspective by evoking the name of his hero, Douglass, who Obama greatly admired. In a speech to a crowd in Dublin, the president connected Ireland with Douglass and the slave trade.

“When we strove to blot out the stain of slavery and advance the rights of man, we found common cause with your struggles against oppression,” Obama said. “Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and our great abolitionist, forged an unlikely friendship right here in Dublin with your great liberator, Daniel O'Connell. His time here, Frederick Douglass said, defined him not as a color but as a man. And it strengthened the non-violent campaign he would return home to wage.”

The Irish Times reported that Nettie Douglass, great-great-granddaughter of Douglass, recently laid a wreath at O'Connell's crypt in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery with her son at her side. Frederick Douglass had travelled to Ireland and England in order to publicize the release of his autobiography, "Narrative of a Life of an American Slave."

Obama publicly revered Douglass, who became the face of the abolitionist movement in the years leading up to the Civil War. Douglass, like Obama, was a man born of mixed heritage. His mother was an African-American slave and his father was white – perhaps a slave owner. Douglass, like Obama, was a gifted orator, offered a voice for those who were underserved, had a vision for a post-racial America and spoke passionately about social justice.

When Obama steps back on American soil next week, he’ll return to a country where the black unemployment rate is soaring toward 16 percent and his most vocal black critic, Princeton University professor Cornel West, will probably be lying in wait to continue his verbal assault on Obama in an attempt to discredit America’s first black president.

Leading the nation from the Oval Office, Obama will experience a myriad of challenges in the months ahead and confront many political foes - even those who are black. But while Obama faces adversity, it’s refreshing to know he will likely draw on the wisdom of Frederick Douglass, a black freedom fighter, like Obama, who understood the power of uplifting people