Though we can ill afford it the authority of Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his inner circle is badly shaken.
They find themselves in this greatly weakened position because they imagined that the public and their own backbenchers would accept Mary Harney’s absurd proposal that any of our parents who had passed three score and ten and had an income of more than €12,500 were too rich to get a medical card.
It might be convenient to blame the Health Minister or the doctors for the fiasco but her proposals would not have been in the budget without the cabinet’s blessing, tacit or otherwise.
It is, however, pertinent to point out that the extinction of the party she helped establish and led for so long certainly has something to do with the market-led policies it so stridently and blindly advocated.
It is also pertinent to point out that in earlier times, when Fianna Fáil was an uno duce, uno voce party, the notion of councillors meeting to criticise their finance minister’s budget, as they did at the weekend, would have been as likely as the Progressive Democrats admitting they are wrong.
In any event Mr Cowen’s credibility has been dealt a severe blow and, at this most difficult time, the stability of the coalition must come under some degree of scrutiny.
The most tragic part of all of this was that it is all so unnecessary. Everyone expected a hard, reality-check budget and it would have been accepted had it been fair and recognised our social obligations.
Rather we got a package that picked the low-hanging fruit and is based on optimistic assessments. Though the medical card proposal provoked a nuclear reaction it seems that proposals that are likely to lead to class size increases may be the real slow burner. Mr Cowen and his ministers may yet have more cringe-making turning to do before this temporary little difficulty is overcome.
That is the saddest part of all. Did the Taoiseach and his coterie not realise that the energy needed to push these bizarre measures through, or to even defend them, would be totally disproportionate to the reward? As it stands the Government is weakened by an internal revolt brought about by panic because it mistook our willingness to accept hard decisions for an appetite to deny the vulnerable.
Irrespective of the outcome of talks with doctors — be they consultations or negotiations — Mr Cowen should admit that they were wrong and scrap the measures. That does not mean that the doctors are off the hook but that issue can be resolved in a timeframe that more suits the government. By making a clean break Mr Cowen can concentrate on the rally important challenges facing us all. In reality budget details are just a sideshow in the greater scheme of things
Over the weekend former US secretary of state and retired general Colin Powell announced his support for Senator Barack Obama saying that the Democrat candidate “has both the style and substance. He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president...”
If our leaders were assessed on the same criteria it would be impossible to endorse them. None of us can afford leadership of this ineptitude, the stakes are just far, far too high.