President Joe Biden speaking in Ballina. photo.

EDITORIAL: An Inner Bounce

At one point during President Joe Biden's four day visit to Ireland last week a commentator in one newspaper opined that the president was unlikely to get an electoral bounce back in the U.S. from his stay on the island.

There was a time, in political terms about five million years ago, when photos of a president being wildly greeted in a foreign land might indeed impress domestic voters. It's fair to say that if President Kennedy had survived and stood for election in 1964 not a few Irish American voters would have been inspired by lingering images from Kennedy's time in the land of his and their ancestors.

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That was then and this is now. Irish American voters these days are no longer married to the Democratic Party on a scale evident in the days of yore. Many vote Republican. Many register as Independent. Some float between the parties. Some are fed up and try not to think of politics at all. It's a complex and messy thing, today's politics. And not just for those voters who identify themselves as Irish American.

But Biden wasn't specifically looking for American votes during his time in Ireland. That said, he was looking for a bounce, an inner bounce, the kind of feeling that tells a politician that the game is not yet up, that there can be one more spin on the merry-go-round, that another run for office is not just possible, but desirable. And winning that desired office is indeed distinctly possible. 

And Joe Biden still has that desire. It was evident in Belfast, Carlingford, Dundalk, Dublin, and Ballina. Especially in Ballina where Biden stepped on to a stage and a rapturous reception that would have been familiar to the likes of, say, Bruce Springsteen.

Reporters were asking questions of the president with regard to his running for a second term. Biden didn't give a final confirmation but came close to doing so as he departed Ballina stating: "We'll announce it relatively soon. But the trip here just reinforced my sense of optimism about what can be done."

As the Washington Post reported: "Quoting Irish poetry and soaking up the cheers of thousands, President Joe Biden on Friday pronounced Ireland not just part of his family history but part of his soul as he wrapped up a trip that gave him the kind of adoration that eludes him back in the U.S.

"Roughly 27,000 people gathered at the foot of St. Muredach’s Cathedral, constructed in part with bricks made by Biden’s great-great-great grandfather. Biden drew a crowd that was more than double the size of the town’s population — some drove from hours away and waited nearly all day in the rain and cold for a chance to see him, calling out for 'the Joe show' to begin.

“Over the years, stories of this place have become part of my soul,” Biden told the massive crowd, associating himself with those in the audience by speaking of “we Irish” and talking of a “part of my family lore.”

Such was Biden's embracing of the land of his ancestors that there were moments when it sounded like he didn't want to leave. And he expressed wonder over the fact that his ancestors left behind such a beautiful place. But of course the president was all too aware of why those ancestors headed west: you can't eat scenery.

But scenery apart, there were also the people. If expecting a bounce from American voters was too much to expect an injection of raw political energy courtesy of Biden's Irish hosts was very much an evident fact.

When the history of the American presidency in the first quarter of the twentieth century is written it may well be the case that Biden's Irish sojourn, and at its pinnacle the visit to Ballina, County Mayo, might be added to the list of decisive moments in the quest for the White House.

Regardless, it certainly was memorable.