26 SEPTEMBER 1992, Page 28


Two puzzling pygmies fighting a no-win election


Wile we have been losing the battle for the pound, the French have been divid- ing themselves neatly down the middle and the Germans have been booting out the gypsies, the Americans have been starting to elect themselves a president. It is a dis- couraging business. Never before have I come across such general despondency in this naturally optimistic country. The new long-distance air-routes now permit you to escape the whingeing New York bottleneck and land straight in the friendly Midwest. But even in sunny, shining Denver, I found worry, worry, worry. An enormous, genial customs chief studied my entry slip. 'What ya doin' here, Paul?' Come to give a talk about the state of the world.' Guess I don't know about that, but here it's calamitous. Got a solution?' No."Me neither. Pass, friend.' Up in the Rockies, at Aspen, prob- ably the richest place on earth, a lady said, 'Welcome to doom city.'

Americans like to fix their eyes beyond their troubles on a source of hope, usually a person, and it is here that the election is letting them down. Perot has frozen the ardour of his millions of supporters by his mean, icy ,,elfishness. You can't find any- - _ tiae of the upcoming television debates. as pawns in an electoral chess-game played by professional minders.

Lui uusit MCII, UUI - - ing four years in the White House, come into sharper focus, for good or evil. Bush just becomes fuzzier. His zombie-like cam- paigning suggests he is not really there at all, just an animated object in a suit, who is hung up in a closet at night when his staff have done with him. But if he is animated, why is he not better programmed? For a man who has been in the public eye all his life, he is astonishingly inarticulate. Many years ago, having heard him make a lamentable speech at some conference, I gave him some gratuitous advice: `Mr Bush, never begin a sentence without being sure what your main verb is going to be.' Wasted wortic Over time I hatn!

when what he says makes some kind of sense, it remains oddly unnatural: 'We're gonna see more fomentation of hegemony.' `I know my clothes are a little more elitist than usual.' I've just come off a traumatic decision and I've got to decompress.' His inability to make up his mind leads to all kinds of theories, especially among Ameri- can women, about his physical state. Last week I heard various explanations, with names which sounded like Pronto's Syn- drome, Grade's Disease and the Grund- wald Condition. One lady confided in me: 'I believe he's gotten used to taking Bar- bara's medication by mistake.' Only since James Baker returned to the White House to take charge has some kind of Bush pro- gramme for facing the country's appalling problems begun to emerge. But in that case, why isn't Baker the candidate? It makes no sense to have an expert puppet- master wasting his time on a badly made puppet.

If you take the electoral college approach to the result, it's almost impossible to see Bush winning. California, New York, Penn- sylvania gone, Texas slipping, Florida doubtful, Michigan gone, Illinois query, Ohio and New Jersey no more than possi- ble. 'I give him New Hampshire and Geor- gia.' Big deal.' At present the ligures can- the Republican strategists are right to keep after all, character is precisely what the White House is about. One uncommitted -limey-Thaw

never tells the truth. I say he never tells the truth for its own sake.' The code-word they use about him is 'Oxford-educated'. (Chan- cellor Roy Jenkins should look into the sig- nificance of this.)

Clinton is obviously enormously compe- tent at the actual business of being a candi- date, a punch-ball impossible to knock out, who bobs back bouncing, weaving, swing- ing, smiling: no hiss of escaping air like Mondale or Dukakis. He is Arkansas politi- co writ large. As such, he recalls the description of Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited: 'He wasn't a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnat- urally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory. I thought he was a primitive savage, but he was some- thing absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly modern age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending he was the whole.' Alone in their voting booths, sufficient American voters may perceive this, and give Bush the benefit of the doubt, as the familiar mess who holds no further horrors. America is a shaky, apprehensive country, and fear is on Bush's side, just. It is reinforced by the wives, who personify the two warring sides of Ameri- can womanhood. Hilary is loud, pushy' knowing, glib, gender-conscious, problem- producing, solution-providing yet somehow barren; you can see why Billy-boy felt he i needed someone on the side. Barbara s American people do not deserve it. i" try, 'I love to sit and hear them get excite about technicalities: the amazing new tele- - - horizon, the hair-raising latest in biogenet- ics, why natural gas is going to zoom, how to float a Wall Street superbond, what hap- pens when people stop eating beef. This eager, gifted people, with their extraordi- nary appetite for innovation, their zest for change, their courage, generosity and boundless energy, are still the world's best bet to set the pattern of the 21st century. They are natural leaders. But who is to lead them? I am reminded of Ludendorff s ver- dict on the British army in the Great War: 'Lions led by donkeys'. America's noble ship of state sails on, as Longfellow said, but two unappealing pygmies struggle for Fu. ark; "IhiCh has so much to gain or lose by it, such a no- win election must not be allowed to happen again.