If you read the transcript without listening to the voice, Cowen’s interview on Morning Ireland is almost indistinguishable from the one he gave a few days earlier to RTÉ radio’s This Week programme. And that in turn is the same as almost every interview he has given in the last two years.
This is not because Cowen can’t communicate. In private, or on semi-formal occasions, he is articulate and engaging. It is because, as Taoiseach, he must speak a language as dead as Manx or Crimean Gothic. When words are used, not to stimulate discussion, but to deny the possibility of discussion, they die. They wither into verbiage. They become spin that has stopped spinning, propaganda that no one expects to fool anyone. And the first official language of the State is no longer Irish or English, it is this system of empty sounds, spoken into a void.
Cowen’s real failure is that he cannot disguise his contempt for this language, even as it is spewing from his own mouth. There is actually something admirable in the way he has refused to animate it with his own personality. He has withheld himself from the verbiage. He speaks in the dead voice of a captured soldier making a videoed “confession” for enemy propagandists. He does not pretend he really believes it, and nor does he pretend he expects us to believe it. There is a certain dignity in his implicit acknowledgment that his words have no meaning.
They’ll replace him, of course, with someone who is better at pretending to believe the words mean something – someone less embarrassed by this parody of communication. But the language will still be dead, and the men who speak it will still be hollow.
And not just there…