John Boland: Heartfelt tone merely softened us up for the savagery
Published 05/12/2011 | 05:00
Different countries face different crises. Take President Aquino of the Philippines who, in his state-of-the-nation address last July, reminded his people: "I stood before you during my inauguration and promised to do away with the use of the wang-wang."
Wang-wangs, for those who don't know, are blaring sirens that enable senior public officials in the Philippines to negotiate their vehicles out of heavy traffic, and President Aquino was assuring his loyal subjects that he remained intent on ridding the streets of these elitist irritants. If only Enda Kenny's problems were so straightforward and so easy to correct. Unfortunately, Ireland's wang-wangs -- massive debt, huge unemployment and constant emigration, all brought about by banks, property developers and heinous Fianna Failers -- will take €16bn to rectify.
Still, there are precedents for such calamities -- and, indeed, for inspirational ways of dealing with them, as Franklin Roosevelt eloquently demonstrated in raising the spirits of a United States devastated by the depression of the 1930s.
So how would our beleaguered Taoiseach, in his own address to the nation, bring FDR-like uplift to a despairing people hanging on his every word? And what would those words be? Paddy Power had been offering odds of 9/4 that his opening sentence would feature the word "Budget", with "cuts" at 10/1, "long road ahead of us" at 25/1 and "living beyond our means" an outside chance at a mere 40/1. Oddly, "We're f**ked" wasn't even listed as a runner. In the event, an appropriately earnest Enda eschewed most of these buzz phrases and opted instead to plead for indulgence from a bruised and bloodied electorate -- assuring them that the fault lay not with them ("You are not responsible for this crisis"), offering no easy fixes ("I wish I could tell you . . .") but finally promising that it will "never happen again".
It was a good ploy, implicitly blaming his political predecessors for the fine mess they'd got us into, while taking care to sound upbeat about a future that will be all but guaranteed if we choose to accept the hard measures.
A fluent performance, then -- a bit stiff and stilted maybe, but conveyed with that blend of quiet concern and presidential gravitas that stood Kenny so well in debates leading up to the last general election. And if it never got near Roosevelt in terms of empathy or eloquence, it probably achieved its basic aim of softening us up for a savage budget.