THE facts have got in the way of Bill Clinton’s speculative bid for the presidency of Ireland. Dammit. Just when we were having fun with the idea.
Clinton claimed eligibility for the role in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN this week. Forgive me for playing fast and loose with the word “interview”, when what I’m really attempting to describe is Piers Morgan climbing into Bill Clinton’s lap for a cuddle.
After lamenting the fact that Clinton can’t “be president for the next 30 years” because of that “goddamned 22nd Amendment”, Morgan said: “We’re trying to change the rules in Britain, actually, because if you can’t be president again here [in the US], we’d quite like you to be prime minister in our country. Are you available…?”
Clinton replied that there were only two countries in the world where he can run for president – Ireland, because of his Irish forebears, and France, because of the Louisiana Purchase. (Clinton is from Arkansas, which was once part of French Louisiana, which is probably the best thing that’s ever been said about Arkansas.)
He’s wrong though, as everyone rushed to point out. Clinton’s maternal ancestors, the Cassidys from Fermanagh, are too far back to confer Irish citizenship on him. Similarly, the Louisiana Purchase was too long ago to make him French.
So the notion was quickly put down, before everyone had had nearly enough time to sport with it. Half of France and Ireland were busy wondering whether to take it seriously. The rest of us had seized gratefully on the chance to reflect yet again on the Louisiana Purchase, and were sat on our stoops with a bellyful of gumbo, thinkin’ on it.
Ireland certainly claims ownership of Bubba. Why wouldn’t we? Haven’t we claimed all six American presidents since Jimmy Carter – or been claimed by them, as a sop to Irish-American voters? Even George W Bush could boast Irish ancestry, although he tended not to, much to everyone’s relief.
Midway through Bill Clinton’s second term, Toni Morrison described him in the New Yorker as “our first black president”, saying that he displayed “every trope of blackness”: single parent family, childhood poverty, saxophone playing and so on.
We need tinker only slightly with those tropes to make him ours. We’ll have to get rid of the saxophone, naturally; we can substitute an acoustic guitar – not so much played as regularly beaten half to death for the sake of three chords. And let’s replace the single parent with married parents who spend 55 years destructively loathing each other because they don’t approve of divorce. Now throw in Bubba’s alcoholic dad. There, you see? We’ve taken Toni Morrison’s Clinton and turned him into Classic Irish Lad, straight from Central Casting.
However, Clinton might prefer the French post to the Irish one. Being the president of France must present at least half a chance of bagging another Carla Bruni. After all, it is a well-known fact that the doors of the Élysée Palace are battered down daily by beautiful heiresses in search of even more upward social mobility.
Áras an Uachtaráin, on the other hand… No one is clamouring to get into Áras an Uachtaráin except activists and community workers and the like who – in all fairness to them and we all know they do great work – are probably not going to put out.
Nevertheless, the Irish job pays quite a bit better than the French one. Uachtarán na hEireann gets just under €250,000, which is a sight better than the French president’s stingy €180,000. It even compares favourably with the $400,000 (€310,000) that the US president gets, considering the difference in responsibilities.
The US president has to Lead The Free World and what have you; the Irish president’s duties consist merely of praising schoolchildren, standing around in the rain at the Ploughing, and articulating pious hopes about the diaspora.
He’s also the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, of course. This might present Clinton with a challenge: that of keeping a straight face while inspecting the troops. “I’d like to pay tribute to our brave service men and wom… Wait a second, where are the rest of them? This is it? You’re kidding.”
But only imagine if Clinton had been eligible – and available – to spare us the soul-destroying boredom of Mary McAleese’s second term. How heartily would we have thanked him. Alas, it was not to be.
However, let it not be said that Bill Clinton, having done America twice, is now in the unhappy position of not being eligible to run for president anywhere at all. No, he has hope. He can become a citizen of France, either by living there for five years or by – oh well now, isn’t this lucky? – marrying a French woman. Carla? Carla! You’re wanted.
Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 23 September 2012