It was perhaps inevitable that Leo would do a Hillary and lash out at the rump of ‘deplorables’ who are muddying the electoral waters for him. Speaking of ‘backwoodsmen in Fianna Fail who would slow down social progress’, Varadkar aimed a very blunt broadside at that section of the Irish electorate who do not buy into his definition of progress and enlightenment.
The ‘backwoodsmen’ (are they all male?) are not only in Fianna Fáil. Some of them are former Fine Gael supporters who find themselves more or less politically homeless in this election. The odd thing here is that the backwoodspeople who used to be counted as Fine Gaelers are the ones he should be worried about, not those waiting their moment in Fianna Fail.
But he doesn’t seem to care about them. He deplores them all, of whatever stripe. Gone is the pledge he gave in 2017, that the party would be ‘a warm house for social conservatives’. Social conservatives, those who oppose his abortion laws, those who believe what he once believed or claimed to believe ‘that every child has the right to a mother and a father and (that), as much as possible, the state should vindicate that right ‘.
Those who unlike him still feel that ideally an orphaned child should be adopted by a heterosexual couple,’to replace what they had lost’. Those who think that young families should be supported to make whatever arrangements they feel appropriate for the care of their own children. The comments about childrens’ rights were made by the Taoiseach back in 2010, light years ago in terms of the ideological journey he has since traveled. Almost as far removed as the commitment he gave in 2017 to ‘social conservatives’.
He does not call them ‘social conservatives’ now. They are now benighted backwoodsmen, on the wrong side of history and every progressive notion of enlightenment. They won’t be appeased even if it costs him the election.
He probably does not even see the drift towards Fianna Fáil as due in any significant way to the influence of the ‘backwood’. He may even think it is happening despite it. He appears to think that by identifying Fianna Fáil with the backwoods he will embarrass people, who think themselves as enlightened and liberal as the next, into returning to the fold, whatever their misgivings about the performance of ministers like Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy.
And the odder thing still is that he seems to be right to some extent at least. Fianna Fáil, whom one might expect to have the opportunistic instincts to know when discretion is the better part, have responded with considerable indignation to the taunt. Micheal Martin seems as quick as Varadkar to disown toxic backwoodsmen. He took the first opportunity to put clear water between himself and any benighted hangers on, pointing out that he came out publicly for both gay marriage and Repeal before Varadkar did.
Both leaders seem to forget that almost 40% of the electorate voted against the marriage referendum and just over one third opposed Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Many more people oppose the lack of meaningful choice and supports for young families in our taxation system.
As we have seen happen in the US and UK, several other European countries and indeed our own country during the last presidential election, people will do what they can to send a message to their electoral representatives. It might mean holding their noses as they vote for candidates who can indeed be said to reek rather too much of the political undergrowth. While people vote on a complexity of considerations, there are always a significant cohort who are led by the one non-negotiable principle. These are the voters who will show up and not just in the polls. They will be the most fully represented of all on polling day.
The real drift in this election is not between political parties but between politics and the people. The people do not like to see the values that were supported by solid consensus up to a mere few years ago being thrown under the bus of powerful lobbies by their politicians. The same politicians can weaponise language through exaggeration and euphemism all they like but the people have their day at the polling booths. They care about specific issues they no longer feel free to talk about openly. They are not sold on a pluralism that offers a ‘ warm place’ to everything new and novel but disparages many of the things they care about.
Using the weaponry of language to belittle or indeed demonise people along with their views and values galvanised the so called ‘deplorables’ in the last US presidential election. It did the same in Britain during the Brexit debates. What was heartening there was that many erstwhile Remainers swung behind the ‘deplorables’ because they could see the smears as an attack on democracy itself.
None of this is to say that the people are invariably more high-minded or clear-sighted than the politicians. They may or may not be but they certainly know what they want from their society. Global and international cabals, institutions and corporations have less leverage with them. That may be a good or a bad thing.
However, in a democracy it is the people who get to decide, not the governing elites. And, in the overall scheme of history, that unquestionably has been a very good thing indeed.