The Star (Nairobi)

31 January 2013

Kenya: Presidential Campaigns - Style or Substance?

opinion

"The Vice-President putative was now ready to face fate. Yet the Presidential script read otherwise. Finally the Cadillac entered the White House grounds by the South Gate, then rested by the helicopter pad and waited-for almost twenty more minutes.

Exhausted, Humphrey fell asleep in the back seat - to be awakened by a gentle, but persistent knocking on the window pane of the car.

Coming awake, he saw it was the President knocking. 'Hubert, come on in,' said the President. They walked in together.

The President put his arm around Hubert Humphrey and said simply, 'Hubert, how would like to be my Vice-President?'"

Thus Lyndon Baines Johnson nominated Hubert Humphrey to be his running mate in 1964. Here was American President, walking from the cloister of the Oval Office and coming down to receive a Senator; tired, sleepy, and presently unaware that he had just been made Vice-President-designate.

Whether it was by design or the humility of a country boy, school dropout, hobo, tinker or teacher who had willed himself into the citadel of American politics, this episode cast these men in human light.

But Lyndon Johnson, ever an astute politician, had asked Hubert Humphrey to come with his wife so that the Senator may entertain the idea that the President could not be as insensitive as to invite him with his wife if he had bad news for him.

However, the thought was soon dismissed since Lyndon Johnson had summoned another Senator to come along to White House!

Lyndon Johnson's swearing-in in the cabin of a plane shortly after the assassination of John F Kennedy tells us something about the nature of power politics; that the Presidency does not allow for a vacuum; It must be occupied at all time.

What this means is that a running mate or Vice-President should both be a person who can command respect, and has acquired necessary skills to muster leadership on the spur of the moment in the event the holder is indisposed or dead.

American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Theodore H White wrote the insightful political novels on Presidential campaigns; The Making of the President-1960, and The Making of the President-1964.

The first was about John F Kennedy; the second, his successor Lyndon B Johnson. The central theme in the novels is how presidential elections are won.

The second book is interesting because as White reports, the 1964 elections debunked the notion that in previous elections Americans had been offered in the two major parties, a choice between "Tweedledum and Tweedledee."

It was Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential nominee who forced Americans to vote on national issues. First was the African-American issue.

Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Bill (1964), when America was in the throes of the Negro Revolution that Richard Wright had long written about.

Goldwater was an avowed segregationist whom Negroes saw as racist, and they denied him their votes. But the election was decided on war and peace.

Goldwater had advocated military confrontation between America and Russia; both superpowers capable of obliterating the rival from earth with nuclear arsenal.

Goldwater's profile was that of a patriot, proud soldier, prolific writer, author and unabashed "warmonger", a label that haunted him throughout the campaigns.

In the book, the Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater wrote, "a craven fear of death is entering the American consciousness --the Communist's aim is to conquer the world -- unless you contemplate treason -- your objective -- like his will be victory. Not peace but victory."

The Republicans and Democrats fought for the soul of American people. Barry Goldwater's slogan asked, "What Kind of a Country Do You Want?"

And Lyndon Johnson implored, "Come Down an' Hear the Speakin'." President Lyndon Johnson, best remembered for informing America as "The Great Society" won with a landslide.

What are the issues in the Kenyan election? Since Kenyan politics is not entrenched in political parties, Kenyans will be lured first to vote for personalities who have inveigled themselves into their lives.

Tribe and corruption entwine! Our failures to manage the political process are grave. Indeed there's nothing wrong in electing a President and Deputy President on trial at The Hague.

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