MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Friday is the chance to take a stance and vote ’yes’

For this observer there’s a sense of the 1968 US Presidential election about the forthcoming marriage referendum.

Younger readers may not recall this contest, between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, which was viewed almost as a referendum on whose viewpoint took precedence in the country, the liberal youth perspective or the outlook of older conservatives.

Nixon won handily enough, but a story soon circulated which told you a good deal about politics generally, not just the American version.

A New York intellectual and a passionate Humphrey supporter, was devastated by the defeat of his hero, and the losing margin in particular.

“I don’t understand it,” he said to his friends. “Everybody I know voted for him.”

There seems to be a sense of epochal decision about the marriage referendum as well, though that seems a little overstated (the European Union and all its works and pomps would not doubt take a keen interest in a ‘no’ result, for instance.)

More to the point, there seems to be a sense that everybody you know, or maybe everybody you hear talking, is going to vote ‘yes’. That kind of apparent consensus is enough to make any experienced politician or canvasser very nervous. Consequently it is incumbent on those who are in agreement with the ‘yes’ side to vote at the weekend.

If you disagree with the proposal then I’m sorry: I thought you had more generosity than that.

The reason this pops up here is that last week I interviewed the captain of an All-Ireland-winning team, who made a powerful argument in favour of the ‘yes’ side: simple, convincing, generous.

You can read it tomorrow in the newspaper and it is well worth your time.

Among the many strong points made in the interview is a simple one: what would Pádraig Pearse and his colleagues make of an Ireland like today’s? What happened to those aspirations and hopes, those notions that a free and equal country could be created, 99 years ago?

You needn’t all shout at once about the thousands of other instances of gombeenism that have popped up in the intervening century. Friday is a chance to correct one of them.

(Incidentally, kudos to the TV programme scheduler who slyly ran The Good Wife last week, eight days out of from the big vote. I won’t bore you with the details, but one of its big threads this season was the battle of Alicia Florrick to become a State’s attorney in Illinois, where her husband Peter is governor.

Anyway, in the last episode said his wife was definitely going to be the new state’s attorney: the classic passive-aggressive suggestion to voters that they didn’t have to turn out to scratch the ballot.

This faux pas was undone by a clever ruse which clogged approach roads to ballots for late voters opposing his wife. Just tipping you all off ahead of the weekend).

An odd tale of courting genius

Tennis has always lucked out in its literary supporters.

As if super-heavyweights like Martin Amis and Vladimir Nabokov weren’t hefty enough, Roger Federer has now inspired a whole book.

Federer is around long enough to have inspired a David Foster Wallace essay, ‘Roger Federer As Religious Experience’, which dates back several years, and is enjoyable in a kind of hyper-demanding American highbrow lit way.

Now that he’s on the way out the door as one of the pre-eminent stars of his own generation, it’s probably not a surprise to see a book devoted to the Swiss genius.

However, it’s not a by-the-numbers biography or hack job. Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession by William Skidelsky seems odder than that.

I saw a review from Julian Barnes over the weekend, and it wasn’t too encouraging, truth be told.

Barnes drew particular attention to the strength of the ‘and me’ part of the title as a theme in the book, and my interest in the activities of Mr Skidelsky probably wouldn’t be sustained over a few hundred pages.

If you’re wondering why I’m inclined to give Barnes’s opinions plenty of credence, it’s because a) he wrote one of my favourite books, Flaubert’s Parrot; b) he was a goalkeeper when he played football; and c) in one of his other books, A History Of The World In 10 ½ Chapters, he introduced the notion of on-field success for his local team, Leicester City, as part of an idea of heaven. But that’s another story.


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