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Of Padraig and Principle: Why Americans Got Saint Patrick's Day Wrong Again

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Yesterday was another St. Patrick's Day. While most Americans seem to think that it's an excuse to drink heavily throughout the day and to ape the worst caricatures of "Irishness," the Feast Day of St. Patrick is a cornerstone of the nation of my own heritage and a cornerstone of a people who have been able to come back from terrible colonization and abuses both at home and abroad. While the Irish now might seem integrated into American life, the time wasn't so long ago that the Irish were reviled around the world as unfit for civilized society. It is another personal reminder of the frailty of respect unless there is vigilance, another lesson in the imperatives that we all must act upon to expand and preserve the principles laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Once again, with some exceptions here and there in the form of protest, the American pop culture machine mostly renders St. Patrick's Day without inspiration and with a lot of rowdiness. The Obama administration has, again, failed to use this holiday and Feast Day as a lesson to teach and learn.

With concerns erupting on every front, it saddens us to see that the Obama administration is missing another series of opportunities. While the Clinton administration was thought of as a bulwark to the Irish-American community, this White House seems to have its priorities oddly scrambled. After fourteen months of failing to appoint an ambassador to Ireland, it seems that there would be no better time to step up and have this done. Then again, this failure in timing and tone is more of a theme than a variation for this White House. Where we once had an administration that was capable of helping to untangle the thorny minefield of The Troubles and managed to sign the Good Friday Agreement, we now have a President who seems intent to not even manage to fill ambassadorships after over a year's waiting.

Rather than to begin to play seriously at solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or to provide sustained relief to Syria's refugees, or a full-throated voice to Burma's ethnic communities, or even to strike boldly with action for immigration reform or de-escalating the Cuban embargo or to sink serious capacities into Haiti's long-suffering problems, we prefer to rattle sabers with the likes of Putin, to vacillate on the issue of the disastrous Keystone Pipeline, and to conduct frightening trade negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership in total secrecy. Terrifyingly, we seem intent to deny our obligations in the international sphere with regard to human rights and are in a spitting match at the United Nations, much to our substantial shame.

Can you imagine for a moment, the possibilities? Can you imagine the ways that the world might look differently to us, to even be inspired by us, if we began to conduct our foreign affairs and domestic agenda in accordance to how things might adhere to the aims and hopes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Here are a few things that might have happened:

  1. Burma's reform process might look more towards ensuring real sustainable peace rather than ease of investment access. In doing so, the country might be far further along to providing a truly safe space for foreign investment.
  2. Russia's Olympic Games might have been far more sternly admonished, if not actually boycotted, on the basis of human rights violations for peoples from the LGBT communities, the Circassian concerns, and the generally violent corruption that plagued the run-up to the games. Putin might have had a far-earlier warning that there were nations who wouldn't play business-as-usual with regimes with bad agendas for their peoples.
  3. The Keystone Pipeline would be off the table for good out of respect for the decimated communities of Native Americans who stand to watch us treat their lands with yet more disrespect, and the world might get more serious about making better and healthier energy choices. Perhaps then we could look at things like freeing Leonard Peltier, which would allow native communities to step forward with us into a future of respect and honor.
  4. There would be a backbone with which to stand for human rights of all kinds in Taiwan, from working to dignify a release from incarceration for Chen Shui-bian to and end to the shameful HIV travel ban to better prison conditions for all.
  5. We'd stop trying to pick winners in Syria and acknowledge that there is nothing gained when a people suffer. We'd insist on basic security from attacks or deprivation for Israelis and Palestinians, and we'd move forward into a world where human security became the real framework for growth.

Far from a comprehensive list of the effects of refocusing our domestic and foreign agendas on the UDHR as a focal point (and means of testing direction of policy initiatives), the actual effects would be tremendous and virtually innumerably positive for our standing in the world and for the world at-large. What happened to the man who promised us change we could believe in? What happened that made us live in an NSA surveillance state and one where civil liberties are receding from the national memory? What happened to the hope? It is high time that take time to celebrate the example of Saint Patrick worldwide, not by getting drunk and stupid while wearing green. It is high time that we drive the snakes out of politics and move towards the other world that is possible right here and right now.