I listened to the RTÉ interview with Pat Rabbitte yesterday, dealing with his impending retirement as a public representative come the next election. It reminded me of the one and only time I saw Pat Rabbitte. It was in 2012 and I was walking west along Pearse Street. He, along with various other besuited individuals, was standing outside the Institute of Chartered Accountants, with a glossy brochure about the Labour Party. It was one of the party’s centenary events, and a fitting enough venue. Rabbitte was standing with his snout aloft, slightly apart from the others though listening to them talk, as though he smelled adulation on the breeze, or truffles.
Rabbitte gave his smug sententiousness free rein in the interview with Sean O’Rourke. He poured scorn on Syriza’s “magical thinking” and chided O’Rourke, when the latter challenged him on the recent cuts to lone parent payments, as having fallen prey to the arguments of the “ultra left”. It was the position of the “far left”, he also said, that the European institutions operated in the interests of financial and economic elites, not the peoples of Europe.
Rabbitte did not spare himself laurels either. He said that he was the most “rational and pragmatic” politician there was. But neither rationality nor pragmatism are virtues in themselves. One can operate a concentration camp with the utmost rationality; indeed, that is usually how they work. One can be pragmatic about when to use torture to best effect.
‘Pragmatism’ and ‘rationality’ appear in Irish public political discourse as cardinal virtues. What these words really mean is unquestioning acceptance of the free market belief system, and an embrace of capitalism as the way, the truth and the life. Of course, there are succulent incentives for those willing to put their beliefs into political practice.
Later yesterday on RTÉ Radio, Olivia O’Leary gave a fulsome –and yes, I do know what that word means- tribute to Rabbitte. It turned out, according to her, that Rabbitte was something of an innocent. Perhaps it was this innocence that led him to warn, whilst Labour Party leader, of the threat posed by the “40 million or so Poles” who might be inclined to come over to Ireland and “displace” Irish workers. O’Leary said she would miss “Pat” – for some reason Rabbitte never got onto the first name terms enjoyed by “Joan”, “Bertie”, “Enda” and so on- and whilst applauding him for his long march rightward through the institutions, she compared him to “Lenin”, the “father of the Russian Revolution”, who, like Pat, also liked the idea of electricity. She didn’t mention he had launched her book a few months back, mind.
It may well have been rational and pragmatic of Pat Rabbitte to position himself first of all as a radical who sought to “win state power for the working class”, and then as the weather-beaten voice of experience implementing right-wing policies and dumping from imperious heights on any possibility of a political alternative. But eyeing up the stupendous pension pot that rewards good and faithful servants to capital such as he, this most rational and pragmatic of beasts must surely feel a shiver of magic.