We are all in the gutter
It was the video about the dogs that did it. I’d sat through the radio debate, two television debates, read all the articles and watched those cringeworthy one-minute videos, listened to the breakdown of each candidate’s finances – including how one of them got a loan from an ex-boyfriend – the diatribe about the travelling community and winced as time and time again they rounded on the current incumbent, haranguing and heckling him like unruly drunkards thrown out before closing time.
But that video was the end for me. That was the moment I realised it was no longer a presidential race, that the contest to become head of state had descended into farce. The video in question was created by Peter Casey, a man who, just hours before, had admitted he was considering pulling out of the race altogether. So upset was he by the reaction to his incendiary comments about Travellers he’d asked for time to reflect on his candidacy, to do some soul-searching on what the presidency meant to him.
And as he teared up for the cameras, confiding that he’d only entered the race because his mammy wanted to see him become president, we thought that maybe we’d got him wrong, that maybe he did have a heart. Shortly thereafter, fresh from plumbing the depths of his soul and coming up empty, Mr Casey returned with a vengeance, posting a video on Twitter which even Donald Trump would think twice about putting his name to.
Like most of Casey’s campaign thus far, the video focused on Michael D. Higgins and his finances. This time he took aim at Higgins’s Bernese Mountain Dogs, asking why Michael D doesn’t have Irish dogs; Red Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, Kerry Beagles; instead of the two Swiss mongrels who’ve been living the high life in the Áras for the past seven years. It goes on to state that we, the taxpayer, have been funding that high life, Brod and Sioda’s grooming fees coming out of our pockets.
That was just the latest in a long string of accusations in a presidential race which has been characterised by its negative campaigning. From day one, the challengers to Higgins’ throne have sought to besmirch his reputation rather than enhance their own. His travel arrangements, his sleeping arrangements and even his gardening arrangements have all been called into question by opponents desperate to discredit the candidate who, according to the polls, is a shoo-in to emerge the victor in tomorrow’s vote.
Yet even if Casey and the rest had solely focused on themselves, bigoted opinions and all, it’s unlikely they would have unseated Higgins. They are a sorry bunch, an uninspiring, insipid collection of charlatans no more qualified for the job than you or I.
In this instance, we must look at the system and how it contrived to produce five of the unworthiest presidential candidates in the history of global politics. With the exception of Liadh Ní Riada, who was chosen by Sinn Féin as their representative, they got this far thanks to the nominations of local councils and the ability to fund their own campaigns. Peter Casey received the support of both Limerick and Clare County Councils, meaning that your local politician, your local councillor, thought he had the potential to be the President of this country.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Equally disconcerting is the notion that someone can simply buy their way into what is still, despite what some might have you believe, a position of great importance and power. It worked for Donald Trump, but one would hope that we are better than that. One would hope that in this era of great political turmoil the Presidency of Ireland could be a showcase for the very best we have to offer, for the finest, brightest minds in the land to step forth and wow us with their oratory skills, their charisma, leadership and relatability. Instead we’ve got three jumped-up businessmen most known for being on reality tv and a woman who doesn’t appear to have even read the Constitution of Ireland.
We can do better than this, we must do better than this.
With so much negativity surrounding Irish life at this moment in time, we needed this presidential race to offer us a ray of hope, to provide some relief from the daily bombardment of homelessness, hospital waiting lists and spiralling rents. Instead it’s added to the grief, made us all that little bit more sour, more resentful, given us more reasons to vent our anger, to crib and complain. In some instances, it’s encouraged us to let loose our most ugly opinions, provided a platform for the kind of rhetoric we have thus far managed to avoid in this country. And while Peter Casey’s attempts to ‘tell it like it is’ will have curried favour in certain quarters, it would be something of a miracle if he topples the immovable incumbent.
But while Higgins spends the next seven years booking into backpacker hostels and taking ubers to Belfast, and the two dogs wander around his unkempt garden with cow dung in their raggedy, knotted coats, someone, maybe Leo if he has time, should really take a look at how we go about electing our presidents. This race was unique in that three of the major parties didn’t select a candidate of their own, and the 2025 election is likely to be a far more solemn affair. Even so, parameters need to be set in place to ensure the Presidency is not dragged through the gutter as it has been in the past few weeks.
It’s an inescapable fact that political campaigns require money and that, without sufficient funds, even the best, most suitable candidates won’t get on the ticket. But there has to be a middle ground – being a millionaire shouldn’t be a criterion for candidacy. The practise of acquiring nominations from local councils needs to be done away with too. Who knows what kind of vested interests and long-standing arrangements are being exploited there?
So what then? How do we go about improving the quality of candidates? Well, why not create a selection panel, similar to the one used to choose the Nobel Prize winners, the Oscar nominees, a group of unaligned citizens who, without any outside influence, will carefully choose the people they believe are most qualified to represent the country as President.
Sure, there’d be controversy, insinuations aplenty, and figuring out how to finance each nominee’s campaign might provide a few headaches, but could it possibly be any worse than the nonsense we’ve been subjected to over the past month?
Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn’t need no goddamn man
When I was a child I had two favourite programmes: The A-Team and He-Man. The former featured four guys doing what guys do best; beating up baddies, blowing up stuff and saving the day. The latter centred around a prince and his ability to transform into a muscle-bound superhero. They were simple fodder designed to titillate impressionable boys like myself.
And they did that. They made me wear my socks up around my knees like B.A., and spend hours trying to transform the neighbour’s moggy into Battle Cat, He-Man’s trusty steed. What they didn’t do was teach me about gender equality. Come to think of it, they didn’t portray women very positively at all. The women in the A-Team were just eye-candy, hot babes who added nothing to the plot. They fared slightly better in He-Man, the popularity of his twin sister, She-Ra, leading to her getting a spin-off series of her own.
Yet, despite these unflattering depictions of women in popular culture, I didn’t grow up to be a misogynist, a chauvinist, or a self-entitled sex pest. Instead, thanks to the efforts of my nearest and dearest, I became a relatively well-adjusted, sane adult person.
I’m sure Keira Knightley hopes her daughter will end up the same. To that end, she has banned the three-year-old from watching such video nasties as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. Her reason? The girls in these films are too weak, too in thrall to their male suitors. By allowing men to come and rescue them they set a bad example to the women of tomorrow.
Now I’m all for the empowerment of women and for teaching children about the dangers of discrimination, but is this maybe a tad excessive? It comes across as propaganda; starting off with Cinderella telling the Prince where to stick his glass slipper, The Little Mermaid becoming a strong, independent mermaid who doesn’t need anyone’s help, and before you know it two thousand years of history; holocausts, slavery, genocide and world wars; being written out, redacted lest they upset anyone.