Angry men lack the courage of conviction

 

Sticking with columns over candidature is fine, but don’t knock those actually willing to run

THOSE WHO can, do. Those who can’t, comment. Not that there’s anything wrong with commenting. A free press is essential to a democracy. The fourth estate offers ideas, entertains, informs, analyses and criticises. We call politicians to account and expose inconsistencies.

But what we should not do, and what the putative commentator candidates did, is undermine the mandate of the elected by claiming they are there by default – that we are where we are because the electorate had no choice. That other brilliant brains are excluded by an in-group conspiracy.

If Shane Ross, Paul Sommerville and John McGuirk can run so can David McWilliams, Fintan O’Toole and Eamon Dunphy. There is no conspiracy – there are simply choices. The non-runners have made theirs.

The electorate made theirs in 2002 and 2007 – when a change of government could have contained the damage. Perhaps the Democracy Later group will now acknowledge a couple of things.

First, spare us the “civic involvement in a new democracy” meme. We have civic involvement in our democracy. It’s called the vote. People who win that vote have a mandate. People in the media don’t. If the reformers get a mandate, we’ll get the reform.

Secondly, they should acknowledge the integrity of those who are running. Eamon Dunphy told John Murray on RTÉ Radio 1 on Monday that politicians are gombeens.

Later when he was patronising Elaine Byrne on RTÉ 2’s Eleventh Hour, he called them clowns. The 31st Dáil will certainly feel the absence of the elevated debate he might have contributed to it. Then both he and Fintan O’Toole took umbrage when Byrne called them middle-aged angry men.

O’Toole, who unlike Dunphy has the merit of a consistent world view I can respect, commercially branded himself one of the Four Angry Men last year who charged the public €25 a head to hear them speak. He can’t bristle at the label now. At 65, Dunphy’s hardly middle aged, but he’s just outrage on tap.

David McWilliams – though I sympathise greatly with the abuse he endured – supported the bank guarantee in 2008. Aren’t their positions just as inconsistent and vulnerable as the political class they abuse in its entirety? Another putative candidate Orla Tinsley told Dunphy on his Newstalk show that she didn’t see anybody in any political party who is transparent and honest.

Anybody? Mary Harney, Micheál Martin and Brian Cowen were the ministers for health who broke all those promises to cystic fibrosis patients. Why should anyone on the Opposition benches take the blame for their failures? The “sure they’re all the same” analysis is grossly unfair and completely inaccurate.

Thirdly, enough with the “we ran out of time” excuse. This election has been building up for at least a year. The Greens announced on November 22nd they wanted an election in January. Anyone really interested should have hit the decks then.

What does it take anyway? A graphic designer would come up with a swoosh in a day. A manifesto? No problem: if there’s one thing a journalist can do, it’s write to a deadline. Then get that profile shot on your website over to the printers. You can hire a company to put posters up.

After that, the lads have what other candidates can’t buy – national name recognition and a regular platform across all media. No money could pay for the free publicity.

Everyone knows their names and we are assured in all their pronouncements that the “people” are crying out for new faces. If they’re so sure the people want them so much, they don’t even need to canvass. The masses are begging them to run!

But the boys realised that it’s not that simple. There are sacrifices to be made. Even though we’re constantly told politicians are only in it for the money, elections cost. Candidates take out bank loans or ask for donations – the sort of thing an angry man deems sinister and corrupt.

The day job would have to be dropped for a month. That’s what every single new candidate has to do, and is doing in their hundreds right now. Of course, they’re only teachers, solicitors or publicans, the kind of people you can refer to with contempt when you’re on a radio show next week. They are not esteemed journalists who can bang out 900 words on how the world can be fixed in a week.

Maybe voters would fear that a cobbled together collection of solo artists would be a disaster when a government requires compromise to function. Maybe, for all the complaints of the whip system, voters understand that suppressing this week’s whims to the discipline of an organised party is a basic requirement of governance. You can sneer at Enda Kenny all you want, but the man has commitment. Maybe that’s what voters respect. Maybe that’s what Dunphy and his angry friends are afraid of.

Sticking with columns over candidature is a perfectly fine decision. But now that they appreciate the risks involved, perhaps they’ll treat the people who take those risks with a bit more respect.

The candidates will get abuse on the doorsteps and take part in public debates where the winner is deemed to be the most abusive presenter. Many will lose the fight for the seat. But there will be honour and integrity in that loss. The runners and riders are those who make a democracy work and we have a democracy, now.

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