Political makeovers are never subtle. Image manipulation always involves a crude attempt at brainwashing, an effort to remove unsavoury associations from the popular mind and replace them with something kinder, gentler, cuddlier.
However, Gerry Adams appears determined to go one step further and has embarked on what looks like a campaign to soften his image by teaming up with a cuddly toy. The Sinn Féin president isn't the first politician to try changing his plea before the court of public opinion but he is the first to use a teddy bear as a character witness.
Adams is anything but a man of few words. Having devoted himself for decades to the business of filibustering and rhetorical claptrap – of using circumlocutions to evade inconvenient truths and awkward questions – he has developed a singularly long-winded speaking style. There was considerable surprise, therefore, when Adams joined Twitter, a medium in which contributors are obliged to be concise.
Before long, however, the purpose of his cyberspace mission became apparent. Adams is using Twitter to showcase what he presents as the lighter, more playful side of his personality, the pussycat that resides beneath the forbidding exterior of republicanism's heaviest hitter.
The nature of the self-portrait emerging from the account is so ostentatiously whimsical and folksy that many initially suspected it of being a spoof. Adams portrays himself as a dog-loving, tree-hugging, poetry-spouting hippy who enjoys nothing more than playing with his rubber ducky in the bath. By far the weirdest feature of the venture, however, is the running dialogue he conducts with Ted, his favourite teddy bear.
Had Adams sought to perform this hammy rebranding through the pages of VIP magazine or an at-home-with segment on TV3's Xposé, he would have been laughed off the stage. But because he is acting out via the new-fangled contraption that is the internet, some political commentators seem inclined to treat the venture more indulgently.
A few easily amused individuals have even suggested that Adams is revealing a hitherto hidden gift for surreal comedy. This, in itself, is a black joke. The essence of comedy is timing, and Adams will have long since retired to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the sky before the timing will be right for a spot of good-natured joshing on his behalf.
Twitterati reaction to the Ted malarkey has varied from head scratching to face palming. Many have wondered whether Adams has simply lost his marbles. In reality, however, there is no reason to believe that the archetypal republican demagogue is approaching his Twitter escapade with anything other than his trademark calculating opportunism.
The real question that arises here involves the mental capacity of the average voter, and the contempt with which it is evidently regarded by some political strategists.
All political posturing involves an insult to the public intelligence. Politicians only engage in diversionary theatrics to the extent that they believe such antics will be tolerated by the citizenry. Sinn Fein's backroom team prides itself on its alertness to the popular mood and it is disconcerting to note that they view Adams's Twitter panto as a good idea.
Politicians who enjoy talking to teddy bears are perfectly entitled to do so in the privacy of their boudoirs. But even the most Ted-smitten should refrain from addressing the electorate as though we too were glass-eyed dummies with heads full of straw.