Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cowen's speech

Listening to the reaction to and commentary on Cowen's set piece speech on Thursday night one would be forgiven for wondering if the standard of public discourse in Ireland has fallen so low that the fact of an elected politician being able to string a few sentences together is viewed as a cross between the sermon on the mount and the Gettysburg address.

In all truthfulness, we have a history of generally weak public oratory in Ireland. For the last decade we've had a Taoiseach who couldn't get through a paragraph with causing us to wonder if it might all be so much better if only we could lip read. For all his considerable wit and the logic he presents his points with, I'm not gone on listening to Eamon Gilmore myself . His voice doesn't carry us with him. We're all bold children to him and he's chastising and telling us off. I think that Enda Kenny tries too hard to make a speech instead of just talking to the public, he gave a speech in 2003 in Galway that I think was one of the best in the last ten years. A pity hardly anyone saw it. After that he's been too stiff, almost too focused on not making mistakes instead of relaxing into it. Gerry Adams comes across as just too damn pleased with himself and reminds me a lot of the time of a priest back from the missions with a worthy, worth message.

For sure the Taoiseach said some things that are true and needed saying. Yet they've needed saying for quite some time. So why the delay? The problem as I see it about the Taoiseach's analysis is that there is no element of mea culpa, no admission that the country was unprepared, like a parent who lets their child run about in the nip but then shrugs their shoulders that sure it could happen to anyone when their kid gets pneumonia while other children have the sniffles. We have gotten pneumonia while other countries are down with the flu.

The mantra from the government is everything would have been fine if that blasted turn in the road hadn't come along (the same logic is used by speeding boy racers a lot too). We can debate about when the turn was going to come, but we should all be in agreement that a turn was going to come at sometime. And let's face it this was no 90% corner that came out of the blue. It could be seen easily that we were out of control, and whether it was a deer running out into the road, or a corner or an oncoming car our government simply didn't have their concentration on the road. And that is the fault of the driver.

Taking for example the so-called highlights as selected by the Irish Independent


"The one thing that characterises their success is their self belief.

If we decide to wallow in a sea of doubt, do not be surprised if we end [up] in the turbulent waters that we are in today."

Ok so young people are confident, jeez who knew? Haven't we been told this for years, in fact we've been told that young people are overconfident on the roads.


"Unless we're prepared to say that we as a country are prepared to step back a few places now and take a drop in our standard of living -- yes, of 10 or 12pc over the next couple of years -- in the perspective of a country that has increased its wealth so much over the last few years, by 70, 80pc; yes it's a step back, but we are in a far better position than previous generations had to contend with."

Ah but did the country really increase its wealth by 70/80%? That is the question? Are we better placed than previous generations yes? Undoubtedly, but that is our own doing mind not the sole doing of the state. We did the overtime and saved our few quid, or some of us did. There again some of the commentariat are overreaching when it comes to which generations to compare us against. Eoghan Harris was comparing us to the Irish at the time of the Vikings and Cromwell. Is this how it is done elsewhere? Do the French console themselves that at least it's not the great Terror, or the Portuguese that it's not the Lisbon earthquake of 1555?

Cowen "If we lose the belief in our own capacity to confront this issue and to do whatever is necessary to avoid putting at risk that which we have achieved so well, and of which we are rightly proud of in recent times, then perhaps we didn't deserve it in the first place."


"Jobs, jobs, jobs has to be the priority in the coming years."

The sentiment is ok but the line is awful, 'the coming years' and what would be so wrong with some alliteration. How about this instead?

"Jobs, jobs, jobs are my focus, I know they're your focus, and they must be and will be the focus for all of us for the future. So have they been before and so they should be again." It's not something Jon Favearu would write for President Obama but it trips off the tongue better than Cowen's version.

I found Harris's claim on the late that Cowen had to speak to a few hundred people because he's just not comfortable in front of the Dail or on television a bit like the great footballer who can only do his magic on a small pitch in front of a small crowd on a balmy summer's day, not much use is he? And does this completely invalidate the argument used by FF and others against Enda Kenny that because he's not good in the Dail or on tv that he's just not Taoiseach material. Or is it ok for a FF leader to be hopeless in the Dail and on the box so long as he's ok speaking to the right crowd?

I suspect that Cowen was in part attempting to do an Arnie Vinick last week with all the media appearances. Meet the press in so many guises that they tire of him and move on.

I'm reminded of the words of Aaron Sorkin spoken in the The American President.
Lewis Rothschild: " the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference. "

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