Two Colberts

by Kieran Healy on April 14, 2008

Here is a Stephen Colbert interview with Bill O’Reilly from last year. A friend drew my attention to an intriguing exchange they had. Eary in the interview O’Reilly gives Colbert some stick for the slient ‘t’ in his surname, saying “You’re French” and that “You used to be Stephen Colbert.” Colbert claims he’s even more Irish than O’Reilly. The conversation moves on, then at 5’45” this happens:

BO’R: Now, your middle name is “Tyrone.”
SC: It is.
BO’R: How could that possibly happen?
SC: Because I’m Irish, Bill. Have you ever been-
BO’R: You’re French.
SC: Have you ever been to Tyrone?
BO’R: There isn’t one Irishman …
SC: Have you ever been …
BO’R: … on earth named “Col-bear.”
SC: Have you ever – Colbert! Con Colbert of the Easter Rebellion of 1916.
BO’R: Oh, now you’re Colbert again!
SC: I thought you had researchers.
BO’R: WHO ARE YOU? Are you Colbert or Col-bear?
SC: Bill,…I’m whoever you want me to be.

And, indeed, Captain Con Colbert was a participant in the Easter Rising, and was executed by the British for his efforts. That seems like a very obscure thing for him to know off the top of his head. I suppose maybe Colbert has very good researchers (unlike O’Reilly), and they fed him this to bash O’Reilly with. But he does come from a large Irish family, so maybe he knew it himself. He also (again unlike O’Reilly) knows how to pronounce “Tyrone” properly.

I have a post up at the Guardian blog noting that with no activity on its weblog on the last six weeks, the manifesto itself closed to new signatures and nobody so much as remarking its second anniversary, the Euston Manifesto appears to have gone the way of all flesh and most leftwing political tendencies. I suggest, perhaps a little uncharitably, that the cause of death (which I suppose I might be premature in announcing, but really, it doesn’t seem to have much life in it) was the Manifesto Group’s consistent refusal to ever move on from their platforms and slogans to having any concrete program at all[1] (and that this was in its turn probably due to the need to keep together a coalition which, in as much as it extended beyond a very small clique of pro-war ex-Trots, had very little to hold it together other than a personal dislike of George Galloway). If I had the piece to write again, I suspect I might have given more airtime to the other big psychological impetus behind the Paul Berman/Euston/”Decent” tendency, which was genuine trauma at the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks. But I certainly wouldn’t walk away from my assessment of the central motivation – a desire on the part of people who had been wrong for decades during the Cold War to be on the right side of history for once.

In terms of their contribution to British political debate, my epitaph for the Euston Manifesto is basically Byron’s on Castlereagh. For whatever reasons, as a political movement it was never able to get over the personality issues involved, and chose to promote its views by the same tactics of condemnation, excommunication and inflated rhetoric which had served it so badly during its past on the left[2]. But the current of political thought that Euston represented in the UK was not entirely bad or even entirely wrong. What would their legacy be?
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Biffos and Buffalos

by Henry Farrell on April 14, 2008

The concept of “BIFFO,” long known to those of us from a small island on the western periphery of Europe, hits the “political science blogosphere”: As Matthew Shugart notes:

Ireland’s new Taoiseach will be a “Big ignorant fellow from Offaly.”

This explanation of the acronym very nearly accords with the more usual explanation that I’ve heard back home, with the prominent exception of the third word. More usually “fellow” is replaced by another word beginning with ‘f.’ Matthew fails to mention that the new Taoiseach, Brian Cowen1 is also a BUFFALO, or Big Ugly [Fellow] From Around Laois-Offaly. Important to know should you ever meet him and wish to preserve the diplomatic niceties of appropriate nomenclature &c.

1 No relation to Tyler, who was bemused when I told him a few years back that an Irish politician shared his surname; apparently it is a quite unusual name when it is spelled with an ‘en’ at the end rather than an ‘an.’