The Strange Temporality of Cowen's Back to the Future

There is a strange temporality at play in the government's attempts to comfort its people. In advance of the bailout plan's revelation, people repeatedly suggested that they were worried about the future, about what the plan would actually mean on a day-to-day basis. Fianna Fáil sought to give confidence by spinning the entire mess 'in the best of all possible lights'. However, the manner of this spin is remarkable because of its bare-faced nature. At the beginning of his 'Plan for Recovery' speech, Cowen explained:

'I think its important in conveying to people why we can have a hope and confidence in the future, that is to say that the basic idea behind this plan, is to move our present levels of revenue which are levels of revenue of 2003 up to 2006. If people can remember their tax position in 2006 then that would give them an idea of where they will stand on that side. And then on expenditure we have to reduce our expenditure from 2010 back to 2007 levels....'

There is a strange temporality at play here. The message is obvious. There is no need to worry about an uncertain future, because you have already experienced it: Fellow Countrymen and women: the future has already happened and we are going forward to back then. Sure wasn't it a great time! On its face, people are told that it is simply a matter of returning to the glory days. That's all...

Yet this is the most ridiculous of all possible suggestions. On a rational level it only works if you completely elide the vast difference in global and national political and economic circumstances between now and then. It only works if you completely reduce life in Ireland to the bottom-line of government expenditure and revenue, if even then. It's a stupid and facile comparison.

However, Fianna Fáil are not (complete) idiots. They realise that there is no reality in this idea of a return to 2006/7. They are, I suggest, attempting to project an ideal moment in the past that people can hold onto. This is an affective strategy. People know it's not true, but through a mixture of hope and imagination, they can try to believe in 2006/7. It gives people a material instance of where their life was and where the government is aiming to get (them) back to. Cowen says this explicitly, suggesting that this is something that people can envisage: The talent and will of the Irish people is going to make this a reality for us as a people; I am confident, he says, of that and I am hopeful of the future. Hope, imagination and blind faith this is the only level upon which it works.

So there you have it. Fianna Fáil's solution: We just have to reverse time, undo everything that has happened in the last three to four years. We must go back to the future... or at least, we must go forward to the past.

I can't imagine who will play Doc Brown or Marty McFly, but Biff (the bludgeoning Clown) who threatens to derail temporality itself ... well. He's already been cast. Add an 'o'.