"Irish Premier denies being drunk on air" was the headline and it seemed to be on just about every news site across the English-speaking world yesterday. Brian Cowen denied it, but was he "somewhere between drunk and hungover" as suggested by an opposition member of parliament? Well, I don't think so, but he sure sounded groggy and hoarse. He seemed to be stifling yawns at times. Exhausted I would definitely agree with.
I don't think this is a big deal, but the fact that he thought he could get away with the interview after a very late night of talking, laughing, singing and, at least some drinking, showed poor judgment.
Some listeners texted radio programs saying Cowen was incoherent. Well, God bless them for their discerning ears because to me he sounded as he always sounds when he's asked questions - incomprehensible. Whenever I hear Brian Cowen being interviewed I hear about 20 seconds of what he has to say before I start to hear a noise that sounds a lot like Charlie Brown's teacher.
Still, it's a huge story here and part of the story is that Cowen has "damaged Ireland in the eyes of the world." You might be surprised how many times I've heard that the past 24 hours. And, really, how many people around the world would have given this fluff item a moment's thought? Virtually none.
Sometimes Irish people let these things play on their minds too much. The absolute worst thing that might result from Cowen's interview and denials is that some people will have their stereotyped view of the Irish confirmed. I sincerely doubt any Chief Executive will alter his investment plans or any foreign leader will rethink negotiations with the Irish government based on this one minor lapse.
In fact, if anything, it might help Ireland in a way. If the reports are to be believed the somewhat charisma-challenged Cowen is absolutely great company late at night. He does impressions and sings - not badly from what I've read - and is often the life the party. Maybe that wavering Chief Executive or foreign head of state will be won over during the 'session' by the Taoiseach's heart-felt rendition of The Lakes of Pontchartrain. You never know.
Regardless, it was a blip on the international scene. Ireland's reputation is much more damaged by the daily reports on CNBC and in the Wall St. Journal and Financial Times detailing how Ireland's banks and government - including Cowen, who is very culpable - have wrecked our economy. Cowen has a long way to go before his clownish behavior even approaches that of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and I doubt he's done any real damage to Italy's reputation.
We need to maintain perspective. Whether he drinks or not is hardly an issue. After all, Churchill drank his way through the war and very few people have found cause to complain about his performance, which is all that matters. Cowen's performance of his duties is what matters and one poor interview is not nearly as crucial as the policies he and his government are pursuing to fix the problems that he and his predecessor have caused.