Presidential bellwether on far side of Atlantic AS BALLYBUNION GOES, SO GOES U.S. ELECTION

By Tom McEnery

The evocative and heartfelt endorsements of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy for the Barack Obama candidacy came as no surprise in one small town. It is perhaps the only place in the world with a statue of Bill Clinton, testimony to his help with a big issue there. This town that sits on the western tip of Ireland is Ballybunion, and the statue is a salute to the long efforts of an American president to create peaceand hope for many.

That was then, this is now.

There, beside the mouth of the mighty Shannon River, the choice is clear. They recognize the historical allusions in the candidacy of Obama, but perhaps the most powerful is the “come back in the springtime” feeling of Caroline Kennedy and all who touch that candidacy. In John F. Kennedy’s last summer, he traveled to Ireland, and in the hope of a new world for the taking and the pride in one so vibrant and so full of life, the Irish lionized him. The closing comment of the young president to the crowd who wished him goodbye at Shannon Airport was, “I’ll be back in the springtime.” That is a promise that was left unfulfilled and a love unrequited.

Now is another time, another era, another set of challenges, and a search for a person who would rise to them. And hope is alive.

From Ballybunion to Bakersfield, Barack Obama has stirred the embers of long-banked flames. While his opposition is mired in the dismal rhetoric of the old order – the same old insiders – his eyes are on the horizon. And as they emphasize the past and recoil from his call to turn the page of history in vintage Teddy Roosevelt style, those opponents solidify that fact. Obama says he finds the style of their campaign “sort of depressing. . . . I mean, can you picture JFK saying, ‘We can’t go to the moon!’ ” His rhetoric dwarfs anything possible from the Clintonites and their fellow travelers. He finds this type of attack predictable but disheartening; so do most Americans.

When you want a real idea of who will be the next president, do not turn to the pundits and the talking heads of the chattering, bodiless, odoriferous order that pontificates for each and every network and cable channel – look to Ballybunion. Here in a place known for golf, seaweed baths and prognostications, you will find the truth. Here the denizens decry the hoopla of polls and likely voter profiles, and simply prefer the age-old method of trial by rhetoric, argument and ancestry – oh, yes, ancestry. Even now in Costello’s Public House, the verdict has been rendered, and it’s for the kinsman. As they say, “Surely, he’s Irish, near Killarney, ye know, and ye’ve only to look at Barack’s face and the way he speaks: Homeric!” This is a vetting and examination that each American president and aspiring president has to endure. The verdict is in.

While the experts can pick and dissect the statistics in South Carolina or Florida, here in Kerry, a pint of the rich foamy porter and a quick reading of the tea leaves – real ones – will leave no doubt: It’s Obama all the way.

The son of a Kenyan father and a Kansas mother is also the child of a long tradition that stretched from monks in stone huts to the Brookline of JFK. Those monks would sit in the dark and wait for inspiration. Hope would arrive and they would know it when they saw it. So does America. The mix of Kenya, Kansas and Killarney is a recipe for a new era of decency and inspiration that we have longed for but have seldom seen recently in American politics. In the town with the perfect record of endorsing every U.S. president, some even before the election, the results are in and they are going for one of their own.

TOM MCENERY is a former mayor of San Jose and presidential scholar at Santa Clara University. He spends part of each year in Ballybunion

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