The presidential race has had a decidedly political character.
The contest has been primarily between the Fianna Fail and the Fine Gael candidates. It has been reduced to a contest between two forms of bourgeois nationalism. The nationalism that places greater rhetorical emphasis on the aspiration of achieving the 32 county republic and the nationalism that supports the continuation of the thirty two county republic with improved relations between the 26 and the 6 county states. The former demonstrates a greater interest in the concerns of the Catholic population in the north. Essentially there obtains only a marginal difference between the two parties. The former laying greater emphasis on republican rhetoric and the latter less. Both are essentially happy with the status quo.
Consequently the debate has been a false one. It has been a debate centred around language or rhetoric and posturing. Even at that the former party has presented this presentation in a rather craven suppresses way. It lacks even the confidence to present its token republicanism in an explicit form. This is how little confidence it has in its own images.
Indeed in many ways its politics on the surface are that of posturing, images, hints and innuendo. In this way FF presents itself as a multifaceted populist organisation: all things to all people. In this way republican minded voters are seduced into voting for it. Less republican minded voters, on the other hand, are seduced into voting for it because of their belief that it is only mildly and thereby sufficiently and harmlessly republican.
FG, on the other hand, wants to present themselves as the party of the high moral ground. The party that express a moral disdain for anything tainted with Provoism and intolerance towards the bigoted unionists. They want to present themselves as the party that is most understanding and accommodating to unionism. The people with whom unionists can best do business. The party that can be nationalist and yet unionist at the same time. The party of the two sides. In this way they present themselves as the party that can best achieve political and institutional reconciliation of nationalism and unionism.
FG wants to present itself as the good guy. The party of the high moral ground, the party free from corruption. Conversely they seek to present FF as the amoral and corrupt party that is not concerned with the complexities of the national question.
However the point is that there is essentially no difference between the two political parties. They are both bourgeois parties that accept partition. They are each free from the high moral ground. The differences being presented to us then are one's of perception rather than policy. Difference of image, rhetoric and style.
Essentially on the national question, economics, social issues and security there no difference between them. Consequently to make themselves electable they must artificially manufacture surface differences. This is analogous to brand difference.
Both parties, in terms of their immediate interests, are merely concerned with securing political power as a means of gaining a greater share of the booty. Capitalism is essentially indifferent as to which of the parties take power. The primary function for capital is that of deceiving the public by creating the illusion of choice: a limited or false choice. As well as that the competition of the two parties keeps them, in some ways, on their toes. It makes it harder for them when in power to become so corrupt and authoritarian that the masses loose confidence in them. It also means that it anyone of the parties makes a mess of things there is in existence a government in exile waiting to step into its place. This then serves to protect the system and guarantee capital's continued existence.
The individual parties have to justify their existence by manufacturing false differences, surface difference that is not real difference at all.
In the presidential election FG led by John Bruton devised a presidential strategy designed to put Mary Banotti in the Park. The strategy was to "taint" or expose FF's candidate Mary MacAleese as a crypto terrorist. Bruton's remarks on Adam's support for McAleese formed part of this ground plan. The leaks that followed formed further links in the plan together with Banotti's xenophobic remarks about her which she latter retracted because of their conter-productive nature. They hoped that the alliance that existed between FG and elements within the media and commentators would assist in the implementation or development of this strategy. It, among other things, entailed a grandiose smear campaign against MacAleese.
In addition it entailed part of an attempt to expose McAleese as fraudulent in her claim to be similar to Robinson by exposing her nationalism and social conservatism which she sought to conceal. It was her attempt to play down her nationalism that made it easier for Bruton to launch his strategy. McAleese's strategy of presenting her as a figure of the centre made her more vulnerable to this type of strategy. It was Bruton's purpose to discredit her as a figure of the centre by establishing the perception of her as friend and supporter of Gerry Adams.
By means of this strategy Bruton and his allies hoped to polarise the political situation whereby the anti-McAleese voter would rally in behind the Banotti Presidential candidate abandoning the Nelly and Rote candidates. It may have succeeded in doing this in some measure. However not enough to overcome the hardening of FF support around the FF candidate. It, in a sense, succeeded in polarising the political situation over the presidential campaign. However it was McAleese that benefited mainly form the strategy. Bruton and his allies turned out to be McAleese best supporter.
As it turned out the entire exercise backfired. If anything the smear campaign by both Bruton and his allies in the media supported by DL and the Labour Party failed miserably may have even increased her popularity.
The significance of the anti-McAleese strategy was the massive way in which McAleese's relationship to nationalist politics and ideology was over-exaggerated and whipped up into virtual hysteria. There existed a broad front that extended right across the spectrum into the print and broadcasting media. What this event exposed was the less than innocent role of the media in influencing politics and public opinion. The so called neutral print media's objective commentators exposed their real narrow political character in the significant role they played in creating an environment hostile to the McAleese campaign. However the electorate bought none of it. This is an example of where the mass media was unsuccessful in whipping up a popular frenzy.
Having failed with this strategy there was a half baked strategy to smear McAleese as a socially conservative candidate. This has not been too successful because of the demoralisation ripping through the other camps.
Yet, as I have already said, the divisions generated over the presidential campaign is a phoney campaign since there is little essential difference between the tow candidates of the two leading political parties. And even if there are differences they will count for hardly anything within the extreme political constraints imposed by the office of the Presidency.
Ultimately the politics infusing the presidential race are a development of the political struggle between FG and FF. FG have as their strategy the ousting of the Ahern government as a means by which they can return to power either in or out of coalition. They hope to achieve this by means of the strategy of discrediting the Ahern government. By discrediting the government they hope to increase tension between the coalition partners while also encouraging tension within both parties. In this way they hope to split open the current government and at the same time weaken the coalition partners. In that way they hope to create the political conditions that will eventually make possible a FG government. In that way the mould will be broken and a new political landscape created whereby FG hope to achieve their kind of modern Ireland.
(This waw written many years ago)