Our Taoiseach has won serious respect internationally. We may not agree with some of his policies or actions. As our democratically elected leader, however, he is entitled, at least, to our respect.
What is democracy anyway? Is it something whose properties each citizen gets to decide on according to his or her own special interpretation? Maybe it is, and maybe every single word in the language is like a tennis ball pinged off each citizen’s head, acquiring a different spin, velocity and impact depending on the shape of that citizen’s head. What you are reading right now in these lines I write, depending on how you came to it, may be the instructions for how to land a Harrier Jump Jet or the final element required to unlock the secret code of the Bible. It’s all to play for.
My hermit-like existence, however, has forced me to stick quite unjustifiably to some relatively fixed meanings for a whole range of words, among which ‘democracy’ -along with milk, sugar, and vice grips- is but one. This may be scandalously anti-progress of me, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. In my troglodyte’s lexicon, democracy means rule by the people. And that means that the people confer certain other people, who are their equal, with power to do things on their behalf. So if democracy is rule by the people, and Brian Cowen is Taoiseach, this is because the people have decided that he is the one to do the job (outrageously, some clowns might cavil and kvetch at this immaculate syllogism). With democracy, therefore, it cannot be the case that Brian Cowen is entitled to the people’s respect as our leader, because for him to be respected simply on account of this would be tantamount to saying ‘this person, who is our equal, is not our equal’.
Now there was a woman on Liveline yesterday, and she said that the President was Ireland the nation in corporeal form. In some awful places, such delusional declarations would be enough to get you locked up on grounds of mental health. Fortunately, we live in a democracy in which the minister for mental health is also a publican, and such declarations are positively encouraged. My fear, and I am fairly confident that this is not a delusion, is that both the ideas that Brian Cowen deserves respect because why, he’s our leader goddammit and that Mary McAleese is Ireland would not be considered outrageous by a significant number among the population. This sort of thing, I fear, augurs badly for the future of my own pet meaning of the word ‘democracy’. Perhaps the moment will come when holding to that meaning so fastly will be analogous to holding to the meaning of ‘consumption’ as a disease when everyone else deems it to mean a vital concept in the description of objective economic processes.