Audacity of opposition versus timidity of Government
Arianna Huffington in her eponymous blog poses a great question in her headline on Obama’s first year in office (see the blog posting here).
“Obama One Year Later,” it reads. “The Audacity of Winning vs. The Timidity of Governing”.
The headline neatly illustrates the Great Compromise that is the lot of any political administration. You promise revolution and if you are very lucky you deliver evolution.
The words shouted out during election campaigns in capital letters – change, hope, reform, transformation – become smaller whispered words when the realities of day-to-day governing are driven home.
Hopes of effecting change – irresistible during the campaign – becomes very much resistible in Government. The civil servants are naturally cautious. Even the most ebullient of politicians find that caution rubbing off on them. They are wary too that the media can be reactionary to change (and that denotes a caution and unthinking conservatism on its part). And it’s surprising how resistant to change are the citizens themselves, the very ones that voted you in with a strong mandate for change.
It’s a quandary. But governing by consensus often means a fudge and taking a decision that is the lowest common denominator. You find that the idealist who promised radical surgery producing a sticking plaster instead.
The Irish political class was never in thrall to the sophisticated (but empty) strategy of governing by opinion poll or focus group – or of using the very cynical strategy of triangulation when drawing up your policies – beloved of both the Blair and Clinton adminstrations.
However, because Fianna Fail has been in power for a long time, its policies and thinking have tended to be conservative (in manner, not politics). So over time Big Ideas become Little Ideas. Change becomes More of the Same but with a little twist.
The smoking ban was the only major idea of the past decade. McCreevy came up with a couple of innovative tax ideas at the beginning of Fianna Fail’s run. Low corporation tax has been a success on the whole. But the other raft of low taxes have contributed to the mess we are in. Maybe that’s an argument for those who believe that with settled democracies the best thing is not to rock the boat too violently or else everything will be torpedoes.
The big question is this: Is Nama a revolutionary idea? Or is it merely the only device that can be utilised to prevent Irish banks from being nationalised (something that the Government opposes on ideological grounds)?
It’s a Big Idea in this respect. If it goes wrong, it will bankrupt the country. But is it the Government thinking brave and big and seeing around corners? Or is it something else, the only option because there was no other alternative other than nationalising th banks?
And while I’m at it, Fine Gael has come up with a couple of big ideas, not least of which is Seanad and Dáil reform. If Enda Kenny gets his feet under the Taoiseach’s desk, will they come into being.
Or will he use the Miwadi strategy? Dilute very thoroughly before tasting.