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May 28, 2007
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I don't know if many of you are familiar with Oliver Stone's movie Nixon. I saw it a few years ago and one scene remained with me ever since.

The Nixon character (played by Anthony Hopkins) is referring to Jack Kennedy when he says the following:-

The people looked at him and saw who they wanted to be. They look at me and see who they are.

I think that quote could help explain why Brian Cowen will go down in history as the most unpopular Taoiseach ever. Cowen is feckless, lazy, a bit arrogant, a gambler. He used his tenure in the Dept of Finance to secure his position as Taoiseach in waiting. Anything which jepordised that position was buried deep. Public sector reform was sidelined, welfare rates increased further and taxes cut. I have no doubt that a newly elected government will move quickly to deal with whatever constitutional impediments may exist to setting up a DIRT style public inquiry into our economic collapse. The full role played by Cowen will be brought out into the open.

However, it will be a gross mistake to believe that exposing Cowen will represent the final chapter of an awful period in Irish history. Cowen is and was no abberation. Cowen only gave to the people what the people wanted - the mirage of a successful economy.

Was Cowen more feckless than the thousands of parents who allowed their boys leave school without the Leaving Cert so they could go to work building houses that nobody would want?
Was he anymore arrogant than the nursing unions who demanded a 10% pay increase for 10% less work as hospial acquired infections ran rampant and the sick were left lying on trollies in corridors for days or the consultants who sniffily dismissed €250k as mickey mouse money?
Was Cowen anymore of a gambler than the hundreds of thousands of us* who jumped on the property bandwagon, deluding ourselves that buying houses in towns we never heard of for prices we could not afford was a good idea?

No, everytime Cowen speaks he is holding up a mirror to the Nation and we hate him for it. FF have never burdened themselves with principle or ideology. That is why they are so good at achieving and retaining power but never leadership. They give to the people want the people want.

The Celtic Tiger years (post 2002) were not our greatest years. They were our worst. We were governed by a deeply immoral regime and we gave it our blessing time and time again.

FF in those years introduced tax individualisation (a far greater attack on the Family than all the hyperventilating about same-sex marraige would suggest), they implemented inflation busting increases in welfare at a time of full employment, they made a solemn promise before the UN to devote 0.7% of GNP to international aid and promptly reneged on that promise when our seat at the security council was secured, taxpayers money was fritted away on FÁS, P-Pars, doubling the public sector workforce, pork-barrel projects like event centres in Punchestown and benchmarking without reform.

Did we punish them? No, we hammered FF in the 2004 local elections becasue Charlie McCreevey did not spend as much money as he promised in the 2002 GE. Enter Brian Cowen and the party began again.

We stayed silent when Ahern appointed Liam Lawlor to the ethics committee, said nothing when Ahern impeded the Moriarty Tribunal through HC injunctions. We forgave Bertie his dig-outs not because we believed his stories but because we were too busy building, buying and selling houses to each other to care. Many in FF learned the lesson. Cowen refused to remove Ahern out of "political loyalty", O'Dea could swear a false statement to the Courts and remain in office for almost a year while our Minister for Justice stood by him, Dempsey could waste €30,000 in taxpayers money giving a speech on good governance in Donegal while refusing to tell us who he met in London. We get the government we deserve.

So, have we learned our lesson?

Polling data would suggest not. The most popular leader in the country right now likes to console us with the lie that our economic collapse was visited upon us by a golden circle, a faceless elite. It was not. We demanded and embraced every decision that led to our economic collapse.

The most popular leader in the country right now likes to comfort us with the lie that there is an easy way out of our economic morass, that not everyone in the country will have to share the pain.

For a country obsessed with history we learn very little from it.

I for one think that the best years for this country are yet to come. However, we will put all that at risk if we give too much power to another cute hoor who likes to tell us what we want to hear.

*I recognise that not everyone voted for FF or involved themselves in the property bubble.

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