Terry Prone: Why the wit hit the fan in Rabbitte's foot-in-mouth day
For Pat Rabbitte, of all people, to have an Andy Gray moment was such a surprise.
Or maybe not.
One of the myths about Pat Rabbitte is that he produces, on radio and TV, witty ad libs that were in fact prepared well in advance of the programme.
As in "Here's one I cooked up earlier."
It's not always true.
Pat Rabbitte, like Michael Noonan, is genuinely, spontaneously witty in a way that either makes the audience wince and ruefully agree, or laugh aloud at what's being said.
It's a wonderful talent.
It's one none of the younger generation of politicians has.
But it's a talent that, every now and then, has the capacity to plonk its user face down in the mud. As happened yesterday.
Pat Rabbitte suggested that Micheal Martin had basically picked up a bunch of attractive women to put around him in the pictures and on the posters.
It would have got immediate laughs -- and then the hand- over-the-mouth gesture as those laughing realised this was not a ho, ho, ho crack.
It insulted Micheal Martin. It insulted the new women on his front bench. It wouldn't have been so bad if the context hadn't been sitting there, like a flowerbed already mulched and ready for the new plant.
Andy Gray's sexist self- immolation had raised the temperature around anything to do with women.
That should have set red lights pulsating in Pat's head, but the problem with being a genuine wit is that when the longing comes on you to let fly with a funny, all the red lights in the world won't stop you giving in to that longing.
It's complicated by the fact that Pat Rabbitte is so quotable.
How many politicians, other than he, appear in virtually every edition of newspaper "Quotes of the Week"?
Journalists hang around him the way those little fish hang around whales -- the fish swim into the whale's mouth and clean the grot off its teeth, getting a meal in the process. Pat Rabbitte gives good quote, pure and simple. This time, he gave quote that was too good by a mile and too bad by a kilometre.
The timing was a problem.
It was fastened on like a handful of prawns thrown to a bunch of cats.
He must be furious. His colleagues must be furious.
Now, you know and I know that men of a certain age say things about women which do not reflect their underlying respect for women in any way.
Albert Reynolds was not sexist, but an off-the-cuff response in a situation nobody now recalls, forever stereotyped him as a sexist. "That's women for you," he said. Fatal.
But that's the problem about politics and particularly about coverage during an election.
Every move, comment or bit of data unearthed about a candidate is deemed to be a small but infinitely potent indicator of the candidate's real character.
That's why I'm being contacted by new candidates saying "I believe a guy on the other side has hired a detective to find out bad stuff about me."
To which the response has to be "What bad stuff will the detective find?"
In most cases, the caller then realises they not only don't have a corrupt, promiscuous or illegal past. They don't even have a sweaty Facebook picture.
The pollen count may be low. The paranoia count is rising.