24 March 2017

to expand the definition of ‘us’, and shrink the definition of ‘them'

When Bill Clinton was elected for the first time in 1993, a friend from the US sent emails to everyone she knew.  She wrote that this was a new beginning after years of darkness and that she was so delighted. When Bush was elected eight years later, she wrote emails again, expressing her dismay. When Bush was elected the second time round, she apologized to all her foreign friends for letting the free world down.

In 1999, I actually shook Bill Clinton's hand. Nothing to get excited about, I was part of an invited group of onlookers (the things you do on a Saturday afternoon) and he decided to mingle unexpectedly. He was much smaller than I had imagined, his nose was big and red and I didn't think much of the speech he gave. In fact, I had come to listen to another speaker.
Anyway, I am neither here nor there as regards Bill Clinton.

But when I listened (on the radio) to his eulogy at the funeral of Martin McGuinness a few days ago in Derry, he got to me. It was a moving speech, full of humour and great feeling, personal and honest. Not some scripted garble read from a teleprompter. It's only 11 minutes long but worth listening to. And I couldn't help but compare. With that nasty excuse of a president across the pond. Whom I cannot imagine spending sleepless nights on peace negotiations in a small country across the pond, whom I cannot image to even have respect for someone like Mandela. To work for a future where we need to expand "the definition of ‘us’, and shrink the definition of ‘them'". 

For the record: I have never been a friend of Martin McGuinness, have no great sympathies for Sinn Féin or the IRA, be it historic or recent or any of the splinter groups. But I have even less sympathies for the loyalists, the various protestant parties and paramilitary groupings and ancient orders.

Info on strange words in the eulogy:

  • Taoiseach (pronounced: teeshock) = prime minister of Ireland
  • President Higgins = Michael D. Higgins, current president of Ireland
  • Gerry = Gerry Adams president of Sinn Féin, life long companion of Martin McGuinness, both were active leaders of the IRA during the Troubles in Northern Ireland
  • First Minister Foster = Arlene Foster, leader of the (protestant) Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland. Both her father and herself as a teenager survived bomb attacks by the IRA. 
  • What the sitting Taoiseach said in the US  = St. Patrick was an immigrant
  • Ian Paisley = Protestant religious leader in Northern Ireland, life long active (and vicious) opponent of any peace process in Northern Ireland became friends with Martin McGuinness when they were both elected as leaders of the Northern Ireland government in 2007. 
  • John Hume = former leader of the Northern Ireland Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.


  1. Wow. I just sat here and watched that (and thank you for the extra explanations) and it made me respect Bill Clinton even more than I did before. He is, most definitely, an imperfect man and yet- he is someone I'll always respect for his vast intelligence and grasp of situations from all sides. I think he is a good example of a Southern story-teller. He has the gift, the gene, and I think he holds this in common with a lot of the Irish. Above all, though, I think that Clinton truly did and does want equality and peace for all. I think he truly cares. I think that if he is your friend, you probably have a very good friend.
    And no, there is no comparison whatsoever with the current occupant of the White House. None.
    Thanks for posting this. I doubt I would have watched it otherwise.

  2. He was a better leader than he was ever given credit for. He had faults aplenty, but he loves people, cares about his country.

  3. My wife says Bill Clinton is sexy and is convinced she's not alone in this opinion.

    No one likes the Prods (another word for your list). The definitive send-up of British history, "1066 and All That", Sellars and Yeatman, first published in 1930 and never out of print since, has a sort of related comment regarding Britain's Civil War. The two contenders were: The Cavaliers (wrong but romantic) and The Roundheads (right but revolting). You cannot hope to understand Britain (always assuming you feel the need) and its idiocies without reading this book.

    I see your list omits an explanation of the Sunningdale Agreement. Are you anti-golf?

  4. I agree with Mary Moon's comments above. I was moved, not only by his words, but by his manner. This old man is slower, more humble, more dignified, more credible than the rascal we have come to expect. I liked the bad boy, though; so it makes me a little sad to see him like this. Ah well, we are all getting older. Beautiful eulogy.

  5. That was so worth hearing. Thank you for posting it. Was struck by Bill Clinton's alignment of Martin McGuiness with Nelson Mandela. Violent in their youth and then the sea change.

  6. I know some of the community in which he lived before becoming a national figure -- learned years later his mother was mid-wife for a friend's birthing -- other friends years after that had him visit their home -- said he was very interested in and spent time listening to thoughts and ideas of the young people there among the adults -- genuinely communicated and seemed to care for people. Whatever his faults, those known seem quite minor compared to those of our nation's leader now.