The Conventions

Ted Kennedy at the Democratic Convention
Ted Kennedy at the Democratic Convention

October / November 2008

Ireland was in the background at this year’s Democratic and Republican National Conventions, but it was there.

On the eve of the Democratic Convention in Denver, Senator Barack Obama appeared in Springfield, Illinois, to introduce his candidate for vice president, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

Biden has long been an outspoken advocate for Irish-American issues and Obama has struggled to win over Irish-American voters, so part of the calculus that went into the choice of Biden was the hope that Biden can bring voters in places like his home town of Scranton, Pennsylvania into Obama’s column. Between them, they mentioned “Scranton” five times and “Catholic” three times during the speech.

“He was the son of a single mom, who struggled to support herself and her kids and raised him to believe in America,” Biden said about Obama. “I was different. I was an Irish Catholic kid from Scranton.”

When he got to the convention and gave his speech on Wednesday night, Biden pointed to his mother, Catherine Eugene Finnegan Biden, sitting in the audience. Some conservative bloggers criticized Biden for referring to her as a great “American” in Denver when in the past he has complimented his mother – of Derry heritage  – with being “quintessentially Irish.”
“Biden 08 plagiarizes from Biden 06 – transforms his mother from Irish to American,” one anti-Obama website railed.

Returning to his hometown of Scranton the Monday after the convention, Biden recounted that when he grew up there, “To be Irish was to be Catholic was to be Democrat.”
Back at the convention, Senator Edward Kennedy, recovering from cancer treatment, made a surprise appearance and was greeted with a tumultuous ovation.

“I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States,” Kennedy said to a standing crowd.

“Together we have known success and seen setbacks … but we have never lost our belief that we are all called to a better country and a newer world,” he said. “I pledge to you that I will be there next January on the floor of the Senate.”

His brief speech marked only the second time he has been seen in public since undergoing surgery for a brain tumor on June 2. His appearance came at his own insistence, a source close to the Kennedys said.

The 76-year-old senator compared Obama to his brother, the late president. “We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavors,” Ted said. “But when John F. Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn’t say, ‘It’s too far to get there – we shouldn’t even try.’

“Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon.”

He added: “This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. So, with Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.”

“[Ted Kennedy has] been a powerful force around the world for human rights and human dignity, for refugees and the dispossessed; he helped end apartheid in South Africa and bring peace in Northern Ireland,” his niece, Caroline Kennedy, told delegates.

On Monday night of the convention, Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel held a party at Fado’s Irish pub which filled a city block. Maryland’s bodhrán-playing Governor Martin O’Malley repeated the feat on Wednesday night at the convention. O’Malley grabbed a guitar and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a runner-up to Biden in the Veep-stakes, joined him on harmonica.

In Minnesota’s Twin Cities at the Republican National Convention, Irish-American Republicans and Carribean-American Republicans held a joint celebration at the Minneapolis City Hall where the corned beef overwhelmed the jerk chicken. Former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Bruton; Irish Ambassador Michael Collins; former Reagan cabinet secretary and ambassador to Ireland Margaret Heckler; Irish-American Republicans Director Grant Lally; and others were on hand to push the Irish agenda.

Republican nominee John McCain backed a plank in the Party platform supporting a special envoy to Northern Ireland.

A video shown at the convention touted the Irish roots of aspiring first lady Cindy McCain. Republican National Committee members held court at the Liffey Pub across the street from the Excel Center in St. Paul where the convention was being held. The Illinois delegation, led by State Rep. Jim Durkin and Republican National Committeeman Patrick Brady, plotted ways to bring John McCain on a fact-finding tour of Ireland should he win.

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