Haim Ramon has spent the last 26 years wallowing in the swamp of Israeli politics. A large number of Israelis don't even remember politics without him.
Was there even such a thing as politics without him? He had the honor of escorting many of his colleagues on their exit from the political stage - or this world. He was always the smartest, the wittiest, a super-commentator, but also a super-manipulator and schemer.
For the past quarter century he knew how to blaze new trails, to foresee developments, to predict events, to destroy and build institutions, parties and governments. But there is one small thing he never learned: when to quit.
Last night's news shows on the two main commercial channels hardly mentioned Ramon for one cruel reason: He no longer draws an audience. His time has past.
For the past two years, since his superfluous trial over that superfluous kiss, Ramon has faded out of politics. In the days of his good friend Ehud Olmert, he still carried the empty title of vice premier, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time. He should have quit as soon as the trial ended, but he wanted revenge and stayed. He should have resigned when Olmert did, or just before the Kadima primary, but he he thought that maybe the voters would remember the better days of his youth. He stayed, and was humiliated.
Of the great hope, only the taste of missed opportunity remains. In the 1990s, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres thought Ramon would replace them, but now he is heading home with wasted talent and unfulfilled potential. Over the past two decades he became the trusted adviser of all prime ministers: Rabin, Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Olmert all benefited from his wisdom.
Ramon was not a bad adviser. If it had only worked out, Netanyahu could have learned a thing or two from him. They could have got along quite well.
Today he is heading home, alone. He has no friends in politics, he got rid of them all. His moments of glory came when he conquered the Histadrut labor federation, right after his famous whale speech; and a decade later when he was there for the "big bang," the splitting of the Likud and the creation of Kadima by Sharon.
Ramon was showered with a lot of contempt on Internet sites yesterday. There is no other politician in Israel with such a vast gap between the public's view of him and the esteem he has among his colleagues and the media.
Something is wrong. Much less talented politicians than Ramon have passed him by over the years and climbed to more senior positions while he was left behind. Maybe it is his natural laziness. Maybe his too-chummy image, maybe his bad luck, or maybe all of that together.
Ramon is not leaving us completely. He will remain with half a leg still in politics as the head of the Kadima Council. The council is the most important and powerful body in Kadima. It is the body that decided to move up the party primary - and in practical terms thereby deposed Olmert.
Tzipi Livni should take that to heart: If Olmert breaks free in the future from his legal entanglements and asks to return and take over the party again, it is Ramon as the head of the council who can help him greatly.
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