HOW now, Brian Cowen?
The man about to assume the mantle was standing drinks in the Plenty-of-Last-Chances saloon yesterday.
If dealing with de Valera was "like trying to pick up mercury with a fork" (Churchill), and badgering Bertie "like playing handball against a haystack" (Joe Higgins), then questioning Cowen is even more counter-productive.
You can't wind up a stopped clock, and there was no winding up Brian during the Taoiseach's time-out in Central Europe. The Tanaiste is his own man. He will move in his own time.
Bertie Ahern may be living on borrowed days and hours, as opposition parties insisted (again) yesterday, but Brian certainly never liked the idea of an early closing time. The man will not be rushed. Aggravating for the opposition parties, but terrifying in a certain sense, such is the power that Cowen, uncrowned, already wields.
So hold your hour and have another. And we did, a further round being served of bitter potions from the Mahon Tribunal for Fianna Failers to swallow, offered by the pub curate, Enda Kenny.
Cowen wasn't having any of these opposition parties' concoctions, sticking to the plain pints of steady governmental nourishment. Sure aren't they "agin us" all the time?
Although someone should perhaps tell Brian that the concoctions made up at Mahon aren't actually coming from Enda Kenny. but leave that alone. Here's to the three eminent and independent judges, and down the hatch.
It is all going his way. Bertie may as well be already politically etherised, slumped and glassy-eyed from his punch-drunk pummelling at Dublin Castle, but Brian coasts on. The Tanaiste is in no hurry.
He batted away questions about Frank Fahy suggesting on 'Prime Time' that the tribunal is engaged in a witch-hunt. Brian wasn't getting into any media-eval defence of the Ahern, and unlike some FFers, there must be the suspicion that he secretly knows the world to be round.
He knows something else: "I know Fine Gael is conducting a witch-hunt, which is running into the sand on a regular basis." Effortlessly off the hook again, barbing his botherers instead.
We're going to like this Cowen guy. Not for him the arched eyebrows of fake sincerity, the soothing simultaneous holding of contradictory opinions, while also sitting on the fence. He instead has bark and bite, but didn't bother displaying either yesterday. Could he be in training for statesman mode?
Asked directly if believed the Taoiseach's evidence, the Tanaiste purred: "If the man said it, I'm sure it's true" -- a statement layered with subtle meaning. "But that evidence is to be evaluated," powered Cowen to Kenny, "and it won't be done by you!"
The monarch is gravely ill, long live the heir apparent.
Although Fine Gael might have pointed out that it is the taxpayers who are supporting a non-taxpayer Taoiseach, by his own evidence. A still-unknown amount of gifts treated as personal income, without checking with Revenue, taken by the then minister for finance, who "knows the tax law; I'm an accountant."
Defending the indefensible. Only Cowen, in clean control, could carry it off.