BRIAN Cowen is the architect of his own misfortunes. Other Fianna Fail Taoisigh have stumbled out of office in humiliating circumstances or departed with false aplomb only to have their reputations shredded later. Mr Cowen brought the house crashing down around him and somehow convinced himself, if nobody else, that it was still intact.
By last night, when he issued a statement saying that he had done nothing wrong and would not resign, the outcome of the latest political crisis was predictable. But so, to a great extent, is the next stage.
Since last Sunday, it has hardly mattered whether the Taoiseach resigned at once or tried to cling on, powerlessly, for another few days or weeks. Seldom does a whole population make up its mind collectively. On this occasion, it crystallised unanimously on one image: Brian Cowen on the golf course with Sean FitzPatrick.
Again, it hardly mattered whether the image, with its multitude of implications, was fair. Mr Cowen long since lost the support, even the tolerance, of the population. He lost the confidence of his Cabinet. Finally, he lost his party. The one-time grassroots poster boy had lost his magic.
Yet, as he rolled from one disaster to the next, as every initiative failed and every forecast proved wrong, as Sinn Fein levelled with Fianna Fail in the opinion polls and beat the Fianna Fail candidate into the ground in the Donegal by-election, he carried on, almost blithely in denial.
In a political leader, that is calamitous. One of the reasons why we must shudder for the health of our political system is the inability of those around Mr Cowen to bring him into contact with reality. Now, almost on the eve of a general election campaign, they are fumbling to discover reality themselves.
They had better wake up quickly. Mr Cowen's fate is not important. The identity of a new leader is not important: he or she can only fill the role of a caretaker. But political stability is important. Fianna Fail must pull itself together and fight as best it can to remain a credible force during the coming period in opposition.
And the election date is important. There is no advantage to anyone -- including Fianna Fail, under whatever leader -- in postponing it. We need an election now, to clear the air, and a new government, to focus on reality.