Such is the glory of democracy of course. The everyman who is one day a political journeyman can end up at the top of the political pyramid.
It takes a trained eye to spot a good prospect among the also-rans. The late Charles Haughey had such an eye and his famous observation that Ahern was the most cunning of them all has been borne out.
Ahern, the young man with the disarming and easygoing manner, grew into the leader of a party famous for its faction fighting and leader of his country during a period of extraordinary economic and political development.
It’s been quite a decade. But politics have a funny way of eating away at success.
While there is no great push on in Fianna F_il to replace the now battle hardened Ahern, leaders of the main rival parties for power, most notably Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny, are loudly calling for Ahern’s ouster.
He’s been too long in power they say and they argue the point regardless of economic success during the Ahern years and the virtual transformation of Irish society into a nation in tune and in touch with the most advanced of nations.
Kenny, in particular, is of the view that Ahern’s 10 years is enough, that the country needs fresh faces at the top and a new approach to the problems that Irish society must confront every day. Voters may heed this argument and they may not. We’ll know in just a few weeks.
Ahern, of course, could end up leading his party into a third term of coalition government. Ireland’s proportional representation system has a way of turning up surprises and facilitating narrow escapes.
Nevertheless, the taoiseach faces into the election campaign with opinion polls suggesting that he and his party are facing an uphill task; fair and good. The tougher the contest the more it will reveal to the voters exactly what they are dealing with, and what they can expect from the various parties should they end up in government.
One thing going for Ahern in the coming days is, of all things, Northern Ireland. There was a time when Ahern’s party would be accused of playing the so-called “green card” – that being a raw appeal to hardcore nationalist and republican sentiment.
Some rivals, most notably Labor leader Pat Rabbitte, are now suggesting that Ahern is going to overplay the peace card, not least by addressing the British parliament just days before the May 24 general election.
Ahern will clearly take the view peace and the return to power sharing in the North has much to do with his efforts as taoiseach and that he has earned the right to draw political benefit from those efforts, regardless of circumstance.
He has indeed earned the right to crow a bit. Again, the voters will be watching to see if he overplays this particular hand. Ahern will in turn be watching the voters with a practiced eye. This promises to be a most interesting election.