Why cowen never mastered the media
Published 27/11/2010 | 05:00
Almost 400 years ago, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal noted in his Pensees that if the most eloquent preacher in the world had a disfiguring wart on his face, his audience would be so alienated by it that the beauty of his sermons would mean nothing to them.
The effect of a Brian Cowen speech is much the same, though his disfigurements are vocal rather than visual. Of course he's not quite George Clooney, but it's less his appearance than his delivery that has made him one of the least commanding media performers to have ruled this country.
Mind you, the competition for Ireland's worst political speaker has been fairly intense. Simply put, our politicians are no good at oratory, or even simple eloquence.
Admirers used to praise the rhetorical flourishes of Fine Gael's James Dillon, but they were the tricks of a pompous lawyer who loved the sound of his own voice.
Successive Fine Gael leaders were no better at mastering the art of communicating with the electorate.
Even Garret FitzGerald, for all his brilliance, came across as frenetic rather than fluent -- perhaps a case of a mind moving too fast for the tongue to deliver. And the less mentioned about Liam Cosgrave's sleep-inducing monotone the better, while the most that can be said of John Bruton's verbal skills is that his utterances made sense.
Bertie Ahern's often didn't, his throat seemingly beset by so many hurdles that when the words finally broke clear of his mouth they were free of rational comprehension.
Still, his many linguistic howlers at least added to the gaiety of the nation, unlike the drearily droning mode favoured by his predecessor Charles Haughey, where the words he reluctantly forced out seemed as grudging and suspicious as his attitude to the Irish people.
Why our politicians should be so bad at basic oratorical skills and why their English and American counterparts should be so good at them isn't clear, though perhaps the Ivy League education of so many US representatives and the Oxbridge tradition of so many from across the Irish Sea has something to do with it.
Whatever the reason, we've ended up in this time of unparalleled fear and insecurity with a political leader as surly with words and delivery as he so frequently seems in his general demeanour.
What we need is a Clinton or a Blair from the early days of New Labour -- leaders who could eloquently convey empathy with a public mood, or at least persuasively fake the required sincerity.