Uachtaráin Bill Clinton? Close but no cigar


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

Now we’re ALL going to play Charades

A crushed saxophone, not necessarily Bill Clinton’s

PARTY-GOERS in London lambasted Bill Clinton for throwing the “worst party ever” this week. This might not be the first time Clinton has been accused of being less entertaining than promised (outside the Oval Office at least – oo er missus), but it’s surprising all the same.

The event was a fundraiser for the Clinton Foundation’s Millennium Network, which is a rather vague outfit but seems to be all about “improving global health, strengthening economies, promoting healthier childhoods, protecting the environment and swimming with dolphins”. (Spot the bit I made up.)

Bill was there with daughter Chelsea. Also present were Princess Beatrice, Will.I.Am, Lily Cole and Gwyneth Paltrow. In other words, guests had their pick of insufferably glamorous people to be made to feel inadequate by.

So what could go wrong? Did Bill play the saxophone, or fail to play the saxophone (depending on where you stand on saxophones – personally I stand on saxophones wearing concrete boots)? Did he have that notorious buzz-killer Al Gore with him? Was he, heaven help us, handing out cigars?

Well, no. The problem was just that the revellers had to wait a long time to get in, and the room was very crowded, and a bit whiffy, and the walls appeared damp. And Clinton spoke for only a couple of minutes (which is something like that restaurant complaint that goes, “the food was terrible and there wasn’t enough of it”).

Note to self: never invite any of these people to a party: they’re obviously impossible to please. Worst party ever? Hardly. There is a near-infinite list of parties that have to be worse than the Clinton event.

There’s the average office Christmas party, for a start. Then there are hen parties, where you’re expected to laugh uproariously at chocolate willies or be thought (probably not unjustly) a prude. What about a Murder Mystery Party where someone actually got murdered? That would be a bit more of a conversation-stopper than damp walls, wouldn’t it?

For worst party ever, I nominate any party at which someone whips out a guitar and sings ‘Ride On’. (In fact any party that includes a singsong gets my vote.) Also in contention is the party hosted by a control freak, who claps her hands (I’m sorry but they’re nearly always women) and shouts, “Now we’re ALL going to play Charades.”

Other nominees: Any party where the host shows photos of their trip to Machu Picchu. Any party where there are non-drinkers, sitting there the whole evening quietly taking it all in. Any party where the hosts have clearly had a row just before you arrived, and one of them is banging pots and pans around in the kitchen with a face on them that would stop a clock. Any party that features a conga line.

Consider Kim Jong-Il’s 69th birthday party last year, when he broke with his custom of handing out gifts and the long-suffering people of North Korea got nothing? That was a bad party. You’d think if your birthday was a national public holiday, and you were the “eternal leader”, and you had so much power that you could actually control the weather, that at least you could stump up a jar of bath salts.

Maybe competitive children’s birthday parties are the worst, with parents feverishly outdoing each other on the entertainment front. Life seemed easier when no one could afford a bouncy castle and parties just meant red lemonade and something involving desiccated coconut.

But really, the worst bad party is the one you throw yourself. You invite 40 people and only ten show up. You put too much of yourself into the cooking, so that by the time the guests arrive you’re exhausted and irritable and wish they’d all go.

When you finally finish with the food preparations, you return to your guests in the sitting room, only to find that all ten have somehow ended up sitting in a wide circle, mutely listening to slow jazz.

One guest refuses the food: she never eats beef unless she actually knew the cow. You think to yourself: how did I end up inviting into my home someone for whom knowing the cow beforehand would be a good thing, rather than a bad thing?

One couple arrive late – they couldn’t find a babysitter so they brought their two-year-old with them. Having thereby ruined your party, they give it up as a dead loss and leave early to go to the pub, taking the last few interesting guests with them.

Eventually no one is left except one person whom you actively despise, who gate-crashed, and who at 4am is still there with a huge welcome for himself, drinking wine by the neck and singing ‘Wonderwall’.

Give me a conga line with the Clintons any day.

Published in the irish Mail on Sunday, 27th May 2012