Monday, January 31, 2011

Only One Winner in the Democracy Now Fiasco - George Lee

There is only one winner in this Democracy Later debacle and that is George Lee. George Lee tried. The media cabal behind Democracy Not Just Yet didn’t, and that will be their legacy. It now looks like they were all just hot air.

Fintan O’Toole’s extraordinary justification for his excellent imitation of the Grand Old Duke of York in Saturday’s Irish Times is a remarkable document, and a deeply depressing one.

This sentence seems particularly worthy of analysis: “An inadequate effort wouldn’t be a noble failure. It would be worse than doing nothing at all because it would raise hopes and then dash them.”

Remember the boy or girl in college whom everyone fancied in vain? You eventually pluck up the courage to ask him or her if, on the off-chance he or she has no plans, he or she wouldn’t mind being your date at the Engineers’ Ball on Saturday week only to get the wan look and pitying smile that are the inevitable precursors to the bullet behind the ear.

You are let down, politely but firmly, with the intelligence that, as a worm like you and a god/goddess such as he or she could never be an item in this or any other alternate reality, it would actually be crueller for the god/goddess to build your hopes up now only to inevitably dash them later by breaking your tiny little heart. Better to leave you in the mud with all the other lower phyla.

You can hear him or her say it, can’t you? “Oh no, John/Jane. I really respect you as a friend but you see, going to the Engineers’ Ball with you would be would be worse than doing nothing at all because it would raise hopes and then dash them.”

Worse than nothing at all. Staggering.

In what parish between Hell and Bethlehem would the country be worse off, actually worse off, if Fintan O’Toole and his chums in Democracy at Some Point in the Future tried to get elected but didn’t? Not even didn’t get elected now, or did get elected, but *tried* to get elected and didn’t? How could Ireland possibly be worse off?

Would the national debt increase? No. Would we all be conscripted into the infamous pan-European army, to fight General Zeb and his intergalactic clone army from the military labs of Alpha Centauri? No. Would corporation tax go up if Fintan O’Toole didn’t reach the quota? Hard to see causality. Would the US multi-nationals move out? Dearest Reader, the boys that run those corporations couldn’t pick Fintan O’Toole out of lineup of one.

The most sickening part of all this is that Fintan running would actually be a good thing. Politics is moribund in this country. The Taoiseach-elect’s media strategy seems to be to keep the head well down and hope he’s still ahead when the smoke of battle clears. Nothing else.

Debate on the country, how we went wrong, how we can stop that happening again, reflection on the nation on the eve of the hundredth anniversary of the Rising? Forget about it. It’s Fine Gael’s turn, and that’s it. And when that hits the rocks Micheál Martin will take the salute outside the GPO in 2016 because that’s how the pendulum swings.

If his candidacy allowed even a chink of a changed dynamic from civil war politics ninety years after the civil war Fintan O’Toole’s bid would not have been in vain, even if he didn’t even save his deposit. But to try to defend it with this hopeless blather about “an inadequate effort wouldn’t be a noble failure. It would be worse than doing nothing at all because it would raise hopes and then dash them” is galling in the extreme.

Because it’s not about Fintan and his chums, and egos so huge they have their own gravitational pull. It’s about how we debate politics in this country – do we turn around to look outside the cave, or do we look at the shadows on the back wall forever and think that’s all there is and all there can be? Fintan would only have been the hammer, not the hand. But he doesn’t even seem capable of seeing that.

A lot of people will have read that Fintan O’Toole article on Saturday morning while listening to George Lee serve his penance on RTÉ with that appalling Business show on Radio 1. The programme is a shocking waste of Lee’s talents, and a grim reminder of what happens when you try to make a difference. It’s like Lee’s been put in the stocks in the town square, as a grim example to those who would think of rocking any cosy little boats.

But at least George never told us that the country is worse off because of his own inadequate effort, his own noble failure. At least he spared us that. George put his money where his mouth was. If he failed, he failed, but he never pretended the nation was worse off for his having made the attempt.

If you pass George in the stocks some time during the campaign, maybe you can give him an apple as he sits in stoical silence, or wipe some of the mud from his little face. Whatever else George Lee had, he had courage. That’s not common in Irish public life. And it seems an even rarer commodity this week.