Sunday Political Brunch: The Irish Connection - January 7, 2018

Sunday, January 07, 2018


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Mark Curtis

It was apparent in my trip to Ireland, that there is still great reverence for U.S. President John F. Kennedy. While there have been a number of U.S. Presidents with Irish lineage, he is certainly the one who was essentially 100 percent Irish, and Catholic as well. The Irish have had a huge footprint on U.S. politics, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Kennedy Bust – Galway” – President Kennedy visited Ireland in June of 1963, just five months before he was assassinated. Just two years later in Galway, a monument was dedicated in his honor (photo above). In June 1965, it was announced that the park at Eyre Square in Galway would be renamed he "John F. Kennedy Memorial Park." I was there this past week and photographed the bust of JFK. It is amazing to me that 50-plus years after his death he remains such a revered figure at home, and abroad. We saw other photos and memorials to President Kennedy as well, including at the Claddagh Museum.

“Reagan” – The history of Ronald Reagan reminds me of that great musical lyric by the famed “Irish Rovers,” that I heard while I was in Dublin: “It is the biggest mix-up you have ever seen, my father he was orange and my mother she was green.” In Reagan’s case, it was the opposite. His dad was an Irish Catholic from Tipperary (green), and his mom was an English/Scottish Protestant (orange). Either way, Reagan treasured his Irish roots and loved his Irish whiskey and card playing with House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D-MA). While they were political foes, they had a pact to be “friends after 5 O’clock!” Oh, to be a fly on the wall for those get togethers!

“Retail Politics” – Tip O’Neill’s bromide about, “All politics is local” still rings true today. Members of Congress may run on national issues, but it’s really bringing home the bacon in their individual districts that really matters. I’ve covered controversial figures such as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who were very popular at home, but derided elsewhere. People always asked me, “How do they keep getting elected?” Well, the mail gets delivered on time and no one’s Social Security check gets lost. A good Congressional office makes that happen for the folks at home. For the boss, it’s political gold!

“You Wanna Be Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – The theme song from the popular TV show “Cheers” is a classic example of Boston-Irish politics. I remember being at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000, at a breakfast where Senator Ted Kennedy got up and led the crowd in singing some popular Irish songs. People ate it up. You got the sense this is how he worked the Irish pubs in Massachusetts. The Kennedy’s were good at this - “I am a man of the people in a pub; even though I’m unspeakably rich!” It’s now in its it fourth generation. The last time I interviewed the latest family member, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) in 2013, he looked me in the eye and said, “Just call me Joe!” The Irish charm is enduring.

“The Kennedy Magic” – I found it fascinating that 54 years after the Kennedy assassination, he’d still be such a revered figure in Ireland. But as the most Irish President – and the only Catholic President in U.S. history - he’s still something of an anomaly and that is enduring for a lot of people. I remember meeting Senator Ted Kennedy when I worked in the U.S. Senate in 1993. He was with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk when we met, and really wanted me to talk to Kirk, and not Kennedy. His son Rep Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) was very much the same way, wanting to focus on the people around him and not the Kennedy name. It was weird, but probably a strategy aimed at humility. It’s an ironic, but effective brand.

“O’Clinton” – President Clinton’s family life was complicated, to say the least, but he was an Irishman! His father William Blythe, died three months before Clinton’s birth. His mom was Virginia Cassidy who later married Roger Clinton, Sr., the future President’s stepfather. In any case, with the Blythe and Cassidy bloodlines, Bill Clinton had plenty of Irish in him. He went to Catholic elementary school, but later practiced as a Protestant. Maybe all this family conflict was his motivation for Northern Ireland peace. He appointed former Senator George Mitchell, (D-ME) to negotiate the Good Friday Accords between waring Catholic and Protestant factions in Belfast in 1998. We took a Black Cab Tour of Belfast in December and our cabbie Tom – a lifelong Belfast resident – said, “It’s a million times better!” though more work needs to be done.

“O’Bama” – In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. We all know, it was a bit more complicated than that. His dad, Barack Obama, Sr, was black and from Kenya, while his mom, was white and from Kansas. Her name was Ann Dunham and she was of Irish, German, Scottish, Welsh, and Swiss decent. But it was clear, the future President’s Irish bloodlines were strong.

“This Irish Reporter” – I’ve been blessed. Now in my 41st year in mass media, I’ve had the privilege of covering so many of the politicians named here – Irish – or not! Politics is colorful in many communities, and I’m proud of my Irish heritage and the people I’ve met because of it. But politics – like so many of our big cities – is a melting pot, constantly evolving and changing. I’ve been blessed to cover so much of it. More to come!

“Why All This Matters” – You must wonder, how much does ethnic politics still matter in the U.S. and elsewhere? Walls and fences, you’d never thought would budge, are now coming down. As I’ve always pointed out, more white American voter cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008, than voted for Al Gore in 2000 or for John Kerry in 2004. Then again, for a long time it was hard to fathom winning a Mayor’s race in such Irish strongholds as Boston or Chicago, without winning the Irish vote. Today, Rahm Emmanuel – a Jew – is Mayor of Chicago; and for 21-years until his death in 2014 – Mayor Tom Menino, an Italian, presided over Boston. So, the times, they’ve been a’ chnagin!


Related Slideshow: GoLocal: Benchmark Poll, October 2017

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Sponsor: GoLocalProv

Sample: N=403

Rhode Island General Election Voters Margin of Error: +/- 4.9% at 95% Confidence Level

Interviewing Period: October 9-11, 2017

Mode: Landline (61%) and Mobile (39%)

Telephone Directed by: John Della Volpe, SocialSphere, Inc.

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Are you registered to vote at this address?

Yes: 100%

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When it comes to voting, do you consider yourself to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Moderate, or Unaffiliated with a major party?

Unaffiliated: 49%

Democrat: 32%

Republican: 15%

Moderate: .4%

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Next year, in November of 2018, there will be a statewide general election for Governor and many other state offices. How likely is it that you will vote in this election?

Will you definitely be voting, will you probably be voting, are you 50-50...

Definitely be voting: 78%

Probably be voting: 13%

50-50: 9%

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In general, would you say things in Rhode Island are headed in the right direction or are they off on the wrong track?

Right track: 39%

Wrong track: 45%

Mixed: 10%

Don't know/Refused: .6%

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What would you say is the number one problem facing Rhode Island that you would like the Governor to address?

Jobs and economy:  21%

Education: 12%

Taxes: 12%

Roads: 12%

State budget: 9%

Corruption/Public integrity: .8%

Healthcare: 3%

Governor: 3%

Homelessness: 2%

Immigration: 2%

Other: 7%

Don’t know: .9%

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Over the past three years or so, would you say the economy in Rhode Island has improved, gotten worse, or not changed at all?

Changed for the better: 35%

Changed for the worse: 16%

Not changed at all: 43%

Don't know/Refused: 5%

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Over the same time, has your family's financial situation improved, gotten worse, or not changed at all?

Changed for the better: 26%

Changed for the worse: 19%

Not changed at all: 54%

Don't know/Refused: 1%

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Recently, a proposal has been made to permit the issuance of $81 million in bonds by the State to build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox. If there was an election today on this issue, would you vote to approve or reject issuing $81 million in financing supported moral obligation bonds to build the stadium?

Net: Approve: 28%

Definitely approve: 15%

Probably approve: 14%

Net: Reject: 67%

Probably reject: 19%

Definitely reject: 48%

Don't know: 4%

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Could you please tell me your age?

18-24: 7%

25-34: 15%

35-44: 15%

45-54: 20%

55-64: 17%

65+: 25%

Don't know/refused: 1%

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What was the last grade you completed in school?

0-11: 2%

High school grad: 16%

Technical/Vocational school: 1%

Some college: 23%

College grad: 34%

Graduate degree: 24%

Don't know/refused: 1%

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The next question is about the total income of YOUR HOUSEHOLD for the PAST 12 MONTHS. Please include your income PLUS the income of all members living in your household (including cohabiting partners and armed forces members living at home).

$50,000 or less: 27%

More $50,000 but less than $75,000: 13%

More $75,000 but less than $100,000: 13%

More $100,000 but less than $150,000: 17%

$150,000 or more: 13%

Don't know/refused: 17%

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What particular ethnic group or nationality - such as English, French, Italian, Irish, Latino, Jewish, African American, and so forth - do you consider yourself a part of or feel closest to?

American/None: 21%

English: 13%

Italian: 13%

Irish: 12%

Black or African American: 6%

Latino/Hispanic: 6%

French: 6%

Portuguese: 3%

Jewish: 3%

German: 1%

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Would you say that Donald Trump has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as President?

Excellent: 13%
Good: 12%
Fair: 14%
Poor: 57%
Never heard of:  0%
Cannot rate: 3%

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Would you say that Jack Reed has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent: 22%
Good: 29%
Fair: 23%
Poor: 15%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate: 6%

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Would you say that Sheldon Whitehouse has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent: 17%
Good: 22%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 28%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate: 7%

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Would you say that David Cicilline has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a Member of Congress?

Excellent: 9%
Good: 29%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 27%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate:  8%

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Would you say that James Langevin has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a Member of Congress?

Excellent: 7%
Good: 30%
Fair: 20%
Poor: 18%
Never heard of: 13%
Cannot rate: 11%

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Would you say that Gina Raimondo has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Governor?

Excellent: 6%
Good: 28%
Fair: 30%
Poor: 31%
Never heard of: 1%
Cannot rate: 3%

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Would you say that Daniel McKee has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Lieutenant Governor?

Excellent: 3%
Good: 16%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 8%
Never heard of: 26%
Cannot rate: 25%

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Would you say that Peter Kilmartin has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Attorney General?

Excellent: 3%
Good: 20%
Fair: 28%
Poor: 17%
Never heard of: 13%
Cannot rate: 19%

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Would you say that Seth Magaziner has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as General Treasurer?

Excellent: 4%
Good: 18%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 13%
Never heard of: 21%
Cannot rate: 21%

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Would you say that Nellie Gorbea has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Secretary of State?

Excellent: 5%
Good: 21%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 10%
Never heard of: 20%
Cannot rate: 23%

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Would you say that Jorge Elorza has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Mayor of Providence?

Excellent: 4%
Good: 24%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 22%
Never heard of: 9%
Cannot rate: 15%


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