Old political hacks don't die
It's high time to revise the old saw about there being no second acts in American life.
Just take the newly minted political adviser for Kenya's leading challenger in the upcoming presidential election: Dick Morris.
Last I saw Morris, he was being hailed on the cover of Time magazine as the architect of Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign.
Actually, that was the second-to-last time. A few days later he resigned from the campaign when tabloid photos surfaced of him with a high-priced Washington prostitute, prompting Time to put him back on its cover the following week with the headline: "After the Fall."
More than a decade later, Morris has a second life as an author, syndicated political columnist and international campaign consultant-at-large. According to his Wikipedia entry, Morris worked on Victor Yushchekno's presidential campaign in Ukraine as well as for the less successful United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain, a fringe group that advocates British withdrawal from the European Union.
The campaign of Kenyan president aspirant Raila Odinga could be Morris's greatest political challenge yet. It's almost unheard of for an incumbent head of state to be unseated in an election in Africa, although Raila is leading most pre-election polls (the vote is set for Dec. 27).
This week the candidate introduced Morris as a "consultant" and said, "His presence here and subsequent involvement in the campaign will inject a degree of professionalism never before seen in Kenyan politics."
A few things about this are noteworthy:
- Raila's campaign says that Morris is working pro bono. That is a clever way of avoiding having to secure Morris a work permit in Kenya, which, as I can tell you from experience, is perhaps only marginally less complicated and time-consuming than contesting the presidency.
- Morris met Raila on the candidate's recent visit to the United States, where many wealthy Kenyan expatriates are Raila supporters. The current property boom in Nairobi is due largely to Kenyan-American investors. That probably answers the question of how Morris is being compensated for his time.
- In his first meeting with reporters in Nairobi, Morris yesterday called Raila a man of "courage" and "integrity," and said, according to Reuters' Bryson Hull: "I am delighted to be here in Kenya and to help you get rid of the corrupt government." This may be red meat for Raila fans, but I don't think Morris is going to win over many average Kenyans by parachuting into the capital and immediately calling out the country's first democratically elected government like that.
- Finally, Raila is right about one thing: Morris's presence is a sign of the high-gloss, American-style campaign that's being run here in Kenya. The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, has a nifty logo and billboards all over Nairobi featuring him without a jacket and rolling up his shirtsleeves -- a classic, just-folks, "get-down-to-business" posture that's like Bush on the Crawford ranch, or Lamar Alexander without the plaid.
Raila, for his part, has a smooth campaign website complete with Flash animation and video. It's proving too much to handle for the overloaded server in my office on a Thursday afternoon, but in America I bet it looks good.