Not only are the gloves off, some presidential candidates have replaced them with knuckle-dusters. Although all seven are clear on one thing – that negative campaigning is bad – they all then go on to accuse each other of negative campaigning. Of course if you attempt to portray another candidate in a negative light by accusing them of negative campaigning, all the negatives may cancel each other out and you all end up disappearing in a puff of circular logic.
On Tuesday, Vincent Brown gave each of the potential presidents a skewering in turn. They were forced to stand over the things they had done in the past. (Michael D. Higgins additionally had to stand over a box.)
But as I watched the debate and saw each of them have their pasts held up to scrutiny, I wondered; who among us would survive the slurry-spreading of an Irish presidential campaign? What details in the rich cyclorama of our lives, which we had hitherto thought as being irrelevant, would now appear sordid and damning if filtered through the prism of media attention?
We all have our own areas of murk. Like David Norris, we have all written letters. I admit that on a number of occasions, at least once a year, I attempted to intervene with Santa in an impassioned plea to show me some clemency and give me something other than one cuddly toy. (In the end, he relented and gave me a jumper, which he appeared to have bought in Christies in Blarney.)
I have already been quite open in these pages about being the first in my class in Junior Infants to swear (the word was bastard), but perhaps less forthcoming on other, far stronger words I went on to use in Senior Infants. If I were to run for public office, how long before these instances of unparliamentary language were revealed? (Not long, if the speed at which they were reported at the time to the teacher is anything to go by).
How long before someone from my family would reveal that I once woke up confused in the middle of the night and scrambled around in the dark until I found a slipper, and then peed into it?
Word of mouth is one thing – but there is nothing like a photograph to paint a thousand words and obscure the message of a thousand posters.How long would it have taken Fine Gael to find the snap of me wearing a Stetson, jeans, braces and nothing else but baby oil? I could be explaining that the photo was taken from the Inniscarra Dramatic Society’s production of Oklahoma, till the cowboys brought the cows home. No matter, there would still be questions about my judgement.
There would be scrutiny too of my professional career, particularly from the days when I had a real job. The work I did was never spectacular but I had the good fortune to only make dull mistakes. Unlike FAS, I never lost a car. My blunders would just not make good TV.
But there was one near-miss that would have had the news networks salivating as they watched it on YouTube. And then replayed it 24-7 until I reluctantly withdrew my candidacy. It happened at a company party. We were in a hotel for the night. These were the good old days when we thought someone was running the country so there was an assumption that there was money available for spoiling employees. And spoiled we became.
At any corporate do, there is always one person who is significantly more drunk than everyone else. Often it’s the quiet ones. It can be quite disturbing, seeing the decline of a person who, six hours earlier, had sat at your desk and fixed the problem with your computer by practically rewriting the Internet. Now they are holding two Fat Frogs and slurring into your ear. “I’m going to go over there and tell [the boss’s boss’s boss] what a bollox he is” Thankfully that year, that slurrer was not me. But I could feel the warning signs. Thoughts were getting lost between my brain and my mouth. And I made what I thought was a mature decision to go back to my hotel room and let the party go on without me.
Hotel rooms are confusing places, particularly if you don’t have an ensuite bathroom in your home. A dangerous thing is to wake up shortly after you fall asleep. That is when disorientation is at its greatest, when a person heading blindly for the toilet may instead make his way out into the corridor. This explains why I was soon walking with sleepy conviction, dressed only in a Penney’s underpants, to where about 300 people were very much awake. And, no doubt, testing out the capabilities of their new camera-phones. Much of the following ninety seconds is hazy.
A couple of things are clear. In the bit of my brain that looks after me when I am stupid, one experienced synapse persuaded my hand to bring my room key. But the rest of me was headed for one place. Professional oblivion.
Sleep/Locked/Confused-Walking in hotels is apparently quite a common thing. Which explains why a Kenyan man who worked in the hotel didn’t register much surprise as he watched me begin the last 50-feet journey to public humiliation. But at least he did ask: “Everything okay sir?”
Luckily, it was enough. I looked at him. Whatever my brain thought was happening, there was no obvious role in this twisted tableau for a Kenyan man pushing a trolley. Which led some other functions in my brain to ask some other questions about large corridors and underpants. Finally, the one sensible synapse that had made me bring my room key took charge again. Performing an about turn that was similar to Basil Fawlty’s goose step in that episode of Fawlty Towers, I walked back to my room, removed my room key from my underpants – well where would you have put it? – and escaped to anonymous safety just as I heard one of my colleagues from far down the corridor shout out – “Who was that in the jocks?”
Imagine the scandal if this had got out in the middle of a presidential campaign. As Martin McGuinness has found, trying to explain the context is useless. My support would have melted away as my seasoned PR team came to me shaking their heads, holding that morning’s tabloids with their ruinous headlines “PENNEYS FROM HEAVEN”, “WALK OF SHAME”, “TOILET OUT OF ORDER”, PUT A CORK IN IT”
Who needs that kind of exposure?