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Barry O'Bama and American Exceptionalism

Barry O'Bama and American Exceptionalism

By - May 24, 2011

On the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's historic visit to Ireland, Washington journalist James R. Carroll penned a detailed account of that trip in a delightful book, "One of Ourselves."

JFK's 1963 trip to his ancestral homeland affirmed for the Irish that after centuries of struggling to forge a separate political identity, Ireland had truly emerged on the world stage. One of its grandsons had become president of the United States of America, and now walked easily among them.

"We came to regard the president as one of ourselves, though always aware that he was head of the greatest nation in the world today," Irish President Eamon de Valera would say later. "We were proud of him as being one of our race."

Technically, the Irish aren't a race, of course, and only the day before his visit, the American president had made very nearly the opposite point by declaring himself a West German. John Kennedy's Ich bin ein Berliner speech was an electric moment at the time, and still constitutes a watershed moment in Cold War history.

Yet it is Kennedy's nostalgic tour of the Emerald Isle that his successors have emulated. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush followed his path to Ireland. And now, our first African American president has done likewise, celebrating his obscure and recently unearthed Irish roots -- on his mother's side, naturally -- in the out-of-way village of Moneygall in County Offaly. And while on that road, the man who grew up answering to the name of "Barry Obama" stopped just long enough to expose the antiquated fallacy of racial and identity politics.

"Hello, Dublin! Hello, Ireland!" the president told a huge and adoring crowd gathered at College Green in the Irish capital on Monday. "My name is Barack Obama -- of the Moneygall Obamas. And I've come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way."

"I got it here!" quipped someone in crowd. "Go, Bulls!" yelled another Dubliner in honor of the American president's favorite pro basketball team. And then, in what was planned as little more than a feel-good moment designed to earn him the votes of a few Reagan Democrats (or Catholic Republicans), Barack Hussein Obama gave as concise and evocative a tutorial on "American Exceptionalism" as you'll ever hear.

It couldn't have come at a better time for him -- or us.

"Earlier today Michelle and I visited Moneygall, where we saw my ancestral home and dropped by the local pub," the president began. "And we received a very warm welcome from all the people there, including my long-lost eighth cousin, Henry. ... And it was remarkable to see the small town where a young shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, my great-great-great grandfather, my grandfather's grandfather, lived his early life."

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