Biden's Irishness Is A Guiding Star

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. photo

By Ray O'Hanlon

As reality checks go, being elected President of the United States is right up there. In fact it is the "there."

But sometimes a new president is handed the reality check by someone outside his immediate political orbit.

In the case of Joe Biden, the reminder was Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently interviewed Biden and the result was an exercise in defining who Biden is, what makes him tick, where exactly does the 46th president stand on the political spectrum.

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The interview reveals quite a bit, not least Biden's consciousness of his Irishness.

Wrote Brooks: "What happened to Joe Biden? Many people thought he was a moderate incrementalist, but now he’s promoting whopping big legislative packages that make many on the progressive left extremely happy. I asked him that when I spoke on the phone with him this week. The answer seems to be — it’s complicated.

"The values that drive him have been utterly consistent over the decades, and the policies he is proposing now are similar to those he’s been championing for decades."

Biden to Brooks: “We’re kind of at a place where the rest of the world is beginning to look to China. The most devastating comment made after I was elected — it wasn’t so much about me — but it was by the Irish taoiseach” — prime minister — “saying that ‘Well, America can’t lead. They can’t even get their arms around Covid.’”

After that reality check from a friend on the other side of the Atlantic, Biden revealed more of his inner Irishness to Brooks.

And it emerged around the question of human dignity.

Biden stated to Brooks: “I think the Irish most often use the world ‘dignity’ of any other group of people. I think it’s because when you’ve been deprived of dignity you put a high, high premium on it.”

In the white ethnic hierarchies of midcentury America, “To be Irish was to be second class,” Biden recalls. “The English owned the town.”

Another piece of Biden's basic worldview, according to Brooks, comes from 20th-century Catholic social teaching. Biden said that his father loved the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, and later in the conversation mentioned that he, too, was guided by Maritain.

"Like most of the major figures of Catholic social teaching, Maritain placed great emphasis on social solidarity, the organic interdependence of people and communities. If you’re drenched in Maritain, you believe we have serious responsibilities for one another," Brooks wrote.

And that is the essence of the Irish concept of the Meitheal, a philosophy of life that Joe Biden would appear to embrace.