Books

Redemption Song by Niall Stanage

President Obama, whose great-great-great-grandfather was Falmouth Kearney, had the luck of the Irish -- and a lot of it.


Redemption Song

Publisher: Liberties Press
Subtitle: An Irish Reporter Inside the Obama Campaign
Author: Niall Stanage
Price: $29.95
Length: 256
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 1905483570
US publication date: 2009-03-12
Amazon

Barack Hussein Obama is one lucky guy. Though he won the American presidency outright with an absolute thrashing of Senator John McCain in the Electoral College, Obama’s ascendancy to the most coveted seat in politics was also aided by several opportune people, events, and situations along the way. The story of his victory is one of outrageous campaign implosions of rivals and opponents; surprising victories and disappointing losses; legendary speeches; engendering advertising; and grassroots organizing. Putting it bluntly, President Obama had the luck of the Irish -- and a lot of it.

This is not an unusual statement because Obama ispartly Irish. According to journalist Niall Stanage, the president’s great-great-great-grandfather was Falmouth Kearney, who emigrated from Ireland in 1850 and came to the US. Apparently, Obama is exceedingly popular in Ireland and supported by the native population and American expats alike. There was even a bar, Ollie Hayes’ pub in County Offaly, which was the unofficial Obama rallying point for his supporters. Who knew?

The irony of all this is that the president, while loved in Ireland during the campaign, was heavily disliked by the Irish-American community, who supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries and then heavily supported John McCain during the election. The reasoning for this oddity is the misinformed and no longer accurate notion that the Irish-American community is a major player in American electoral politics. Though the community is still visible and vocal about a plethora of issues, their self-perceived importance in American politics has waned considerably in the last 30 years with the influx and rise of other, better-organized communities.

This electoral surprise and many others of Obama’s remarkable rise to power are highlighted in Stanage’s new book, Redemption Song: An Irish Reporter Inside the Obama Campaign. This is an enjoyable account of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign that reads in part like a biography. Stanage is an Irish journalist -- though living in New York -- and does bring a certain third-party, international objectivity to the lens viewing American politics. However, he is no Tocqueville, but an unabashed Obama supporter and Republican opponent. Stanage’s lack of objectivity is readily apparent in descriptions like that of Dubya’s America as “a cold and dark place, of torture at Abu Ghraib, internment at Guantanamo Bay and intolerance and avarice all around.”

We know that Obama emerged with a Pyrrhic victory, but at what cost? How did someone described as “haughty” or “hubristic” and at times, “arrogant”, pull it all of? How did he distance himself from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scandal and other miscues and become the most loved president since JFK? How did an unknown senator who “filed papers to form a presidential exploratory committee” on 16 January 2008 become president less than a year later?

According to Stanage, it all started with Obama’s advisors, who were there for more than goodwill. The author paints the team of David Axelrod, chief strategist; David Plouffe, campaign manager; Robert Gibbs, communication director; and Julianna Smoot, fundraising director, as a group of individuals who genuinely care about their employer. “Their visceral beliefs in Obama,” writes Stanage, “never clouded their vision.”

And it was, of course, about the candidate -- a charismatic politician who genuinely believed in people and their ability to do well and improve the lives of their neighbors. In the words of Kimberly Lightford, a state senator from Illinois, who heard Obama speak at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, “It’s hard to describe what I was feeling -- it was just joy. The closest thing I’ve felt to that feeling was when I gave birth.”

Stanage paints Obama as a unique presidential candidate who played by the rules, but also invented new ones. For example, his team used a de-racialized campaign strategy that emphasized his “American” identity versus that of a specific racial or ethnic group. The author also discusses the role of negative advertising -- or the lack thereof -- in Obama’s campaign. By the early 1990s, political scientists like Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar had already posited that “attack ads” were actually detrimental to American politics because of their ability to polarize the electorate. Perhaps the Obama team had read this research because they used much less than either the Clinton or McCain campaigns, which seems to have worked for Obama in the end.

But, Obama’s victory was more than just about him or his team and this is where Redemption Song really shines -- as a living and organic document of how a number of small figures and events aided his campaign along the way. President Obama’s victory didn’t just happen overnight, but took years to come to fruition. It was about his parents, a black Kenyan father and a white Kansas mother, who would wed amid open hostility and would do so several years before the Supreme Court overturned state laws against miscegenation in Loving v. Virginia (1967).

It was his devolution of power to local organizations, which resulted in the largest grassroots campaign in history -- 1.5 million active volunteers and three million unique fundraisers. It was about Gerald Kellman, who in 1992, gave Obama a job as a community organizer in Chicago for $10,000 and watched the future president help register 150,000 new voters. It was about winning the Iowa primary when only 2.5 percent of the state’s population was black. And it was about every person and politician along the way whom he befriended and supported, who would in turn lend a hand to support him during his campaign.

But, Obama’s Irish luck came about in a different way too via the car crashes in slow motion or debacles of every political opponent he faced along the way from the Illinois state legislature to the US Senate to the White House. Stanage gleefully gets the ball rolling on this topic by discussing how Obama fortuitously took Alice Walker’s seat in the state legislature after she planned to run for Congress and promised to not run against him if she lost in her Congressional bid. Well, she did lose and she did renege on her promise not to challenge Obama, but we know who came out on top in that one.

Then, during the 2003 US Senate race, Obama -- who was not the frontrunner -- surged to the lead after several spectacular implosions of his rivals. From the allegation of domestic violence against Blair Hull to Jack Ryan’s sex club debacle to Alan Keyes’ comment that even Jesus wouldn’t vote for Obama, Stanage reports on all of it and brings forth the idea that Obama did not necessarily win as much as his opponents lost.

This pattern of rival miscues would only continue and intensify during the 2008 presidential campaign. Stanage methodically takes the reader through the primaries and as the candidates trundle along, just as in some endurance race, people start falling by the wayside. Oops, there goes Governor Mitt Romney (“a rather wooden-looking man with a pure-white smile and Brylcreemed dark hair”)! There goes Senator Clinton, as she stumbles and tumbles amid sniper fire in Bosnia; her husband’s ill-tinged comments on race; and a horrible debate on illegal immigration at Drexel University. And then Governor Sarah Palin! (Katie Couric, anyone?)

And then of course there was Senator McCain, whose electoral success -- at least 'til November -- was a surprise to most attentive policy elites, including Republicans. That the Arizona senator came so close to abandoning his campaign all-together and regain momentum was astonishing and even the liberal Stanage gives credit where credit is due. But, that is about as far as the Irish journalist goes. For the rest of the book he lambasts McCain as a veteran with PTSD-induced anger issues, given to “venomous personal abuse” in Congress. In one particularly revealing moment, Former President George W. Bush went to shake McCain’s hand and promise him that some recent libel campaigns in South Carolina were not associated with Bush’s campaign. McCain apparently shot back, “Don’t give me that shit and take your hands off me.”

With all of that said, however, Stanage’s book does lack for an obvious theme -- the purported “Irishness” of it all. When you subtitle a book, “An Irish Reporter Inside the Obama Campaign,” the reader might expect a narrative rich in comparative juxtaposition between Ireland and the United States, but that is oddly lacking. There are the occasional references to Irish themes -- the Kennedys, McCain’s attendance at an Irish-American rally and a cute picture of Obama at a Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade -- but, that’s about it. The title of the book appears to be derived from Chapter Nine, “Obama, Ireland and the World”, which reads like it was first written as a magazine article, from which the book grew.

In the end, Niall Stanage’s book will undoubtedly be a big read in Ireland, but probably less so in the United States because of a transparent lack of objectivity. Unfortunately for Stanage, the book format was probably not the best vehicle for this work and perhaps, it should have stayed as a series of newspaper columns or magazine articles. In the future, Stanage would do well to leave his personal politics out of it -- if that is possible -- and bring a more balanced approach.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image