I suppose I should announce my return by expressing a heartfelt and groveling apology to this blog’s two loyal followers and their pet cockatoo for the lack of activity and updates of late. My excuse …? Well, the completion of my latest academic thesis coupled with two extended jaunts to two continents could not have helped. Anyway, to authenticate the excuse, this entry summarizes how I got on in one of those trips.
Judging by how well the trip turned out, it was certainly a perfect coincidence that my first visit to the US, in February and March 2009, was at the pleasure of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, who sponsored my hosts Boston College to run the Inclusive Politics fellowship programme at its Centre for Irish Programmes.
As for the programme itself, it provided us (14 participants from the
Some key highlights of the programme included meetings with senior officials in the US State Department (including the Ireland and Europe desks); a meeting with Senator John Kerry’s senior foreign policy advisory team (particularly relevant since Sen. Kerry is currently chairing the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee); meetings with prominent Massachusetts Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (her late husband, former Senator Paul Tsongas, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination against Bill Clinton in 1992) and two Massachusetts state legislators who are second generation Americans. Other highlights were the tours of the Capitol Hill complex in
We also visited prominent non-profit organisations such as the
I suppose it would have been amiss if all we visited were progressive/liberal/ Democratic leaning organizations, so to balance things somewhat, on the conservative side of the political divide we visited the National Center for Public Policy’s Project 21 and the Family Research Council. Both unfortunately turned out to be grotesque caricatures of the Republican movement. Basically, Project 21 promotes the views of those African-Americans whose ‘entrepreneurial spirit, dedication to family and commitment to individual responsibility has not traditionally been echoed by the nation's civil rights establishment’.
The meeting with the African-American chairman of the Project 21 advisory board turned into study of polemics, which included the outright dismissal of the election of President Barack Obama as a non-event. The gentleman’s party trick throughout the meeting was to pointedly avoid referring to President Barack Obama but rather dismissively as ‘that gentleman now in the White House’. When asked why, the man who prefers not be referred to as an African American (perfectly his right), basically rolled out the right’s anti-Obama grievance list; pro-choice, pro gun control, liberal opportunist who had achieved nothing so on and so forth.
As for the meeting with a senior official of the Family Research Council, some of his stridently homophobic and rather antiquated and outlandish views on divorce were quite startling to say the least. In fact, the meetings with Project 21 and the Family Research Council very much highlighted how bitterly aggrieved the Republicans were of the new political dispensation in Washington DC and how much they could still not countenance the resounding defeats they received from the Democrats in the November ‘08 elections.
Generally, having been largely indifferent about the visiting the US, particularly during Dubya's administration, I must say I enjoyed this inaugural trip which also included spending a couple of afternoons in Harvard and MIT, where I had luncheon in this cozy, quirky, (healthy?) burger joint full of delightfully stereotypical academic types (jacket patches and all) and some pretty rad students. Nirvana!
Of course, seeing my brother after such long while was the cherry on top, but more on that later.