30 SEPTEMBER 2000, Page 24


Mark Steyn says that George W Bush

is not honkers — which is why he will win the election

New Hampshire TWO weeks ago I predicted in the Daily Telegraph that Dubya would win the presi- dential election with 378 of the 538 elec- toral college votes. Ten minutes later, the men in white coats arrived and bundled me off to the sanatorium. Fortunately, the muscle-control techniques I taught myself as a prisoner of the Viet Cong enabled me to wiggle free of my straitjacket, after which it was simply a matter of shinning down the drainpipe and shaking off the dogs by hiding until nightfall in a culvert upstream of the grounds.

Like many escaped lunatics, I find it's everyone else who's acting strange. Here are some of the more obvious crazies of the current campaign: 1) Pollsters The other day Newsweek came up with a poll showing Gore ahead of Bush by 14 points. This is the same publication whose final pall in 1996, by the same polling organisation, showed Clinton ahead of Dole by 23 points. In the event, Clinton beat Dole by 8 per cent of the vote. Asked to explain a 15-point error, Newsweek said, ah, yes, in fact, it had taken another poll which showed something more like the eventual result, but for some reason it had decided not to publish it, I think it's safe to say that, if Newsweek polled me, Dubya, Mrs Dubya, Bush Senior, Barbara Bush, Jeb Bush, the Bush nephew who looks like Ricky Martin, Dick Cheney and his cat, the result would show a 14-point lead for Gore. What's odd is why anyone else would take Newsweek seriously, given its abysmal track record. Even now, most journalists insist that Gore has sewn up the election on no evidence other than his insurmountable lead in the daily tracking polls — i.e., Rasmussen and Battleground, which show Bush with a one-point lead; Zogby, which shows Bush with a two-point lead; CNNIUSA Today/Gallup, which show Bush with a three-point lead.

2) The media Much has been written about whether the US media display a liberal bias. More late- ly, Governor Bush has helpfully expanded the debate by raising the question of whether they are also 'major-league ass- holes'. But, leaving aside their liberal and rectal tendencies, are they just plain nuts? In recent weeks, supposedly, the Bush cam- paign has stalled because of a series of `gaffes'. For example, a campaign ad on healthcare flashed the last four letters of the word tureaucRATS' across the screen for one-thirtieth of a second and prompted a front-page story in the New York Times about whether Bush was trying subliminally to influence the outcome of the election. Al Gore doesn't need subliminally to influ- ence the outcome of the election because he can do it, er, liminally. In this instance, he told the Times guy about the Bush ad and they did a big story on it followed by a splendily assholic editorial warning about the serious questions it raises. Recently, for example, while on his whistle-stop cruise down the Mississippi, Al was photographed in front of a big sign on his boat bearing the word 'families', that being one of the themes of his campaign. Unfortunately, the vice-president positioned himself badly and obscured the first part of the word so that the ensuing pictures showed Al next to the word 'lies'. This could convey the sublimi- nal message to voters that Al Gore lies. Fortunately, Al's aides had a quiet word with the photographers and they sportingly agreed not to run the snaps.

Sadly, Dubya handled his rats more clumsily than Al handled his lies. The gov- ernor denied he was up to anything sub- liminal — or, as he put it, `subliminable'. This prompted another round of bad press about the new gaffe he'd made while apol- ogising for his old gaffe. Then Gail Sheehy weighed in in the new Vanity Fair. Mrs Sheehy is America's maestro of menopause, the woman who's taught mil- lions of readers to regard any unfriendly- sounding 'mid-life crisis' as a positive `growth opportunity' or 'passage'. Her last book was called Understanding Men's Pas- sages, which sounds like a celebrity memoir by a Hollywood gerbil, or perhaps a guide to New York Times reporters. At any rate, whether or not she understands my pas- sage, she certainly understands Dubya's. After an in-depth study of the governor's vocal passage, Mrs Sheehy has pronounced him dyslexic on the grounds that he can't pronounce words like dyslexic. The press gave this great play, and explained how Dubya was now locked in a downward gaffe spiral — RATS/subliminable/dyslexic — from which he was unlikely to recover.

Then he recovered. The media were ini- tially flummoxed by his rebounding poll numbers, but soon got on top of the situa- tion. It turns out Dubya had been on Oprah but, instead of just hugging Oprah, as Al did, the governor kissed her. This was felt by the analysts to have neutralised the impact of Al's tongue sarnie with Tipper at the Democratic Convention. By last week- end, his numbers had improved so dramati- cally that even the Newsweek poll had him within two points of Gore. Unless someone left a zero off.

Okay, I'm strictly a minor-league asshole, but how about this? Out in the real world, no one cared about the subliminal rodents, or Dubya's inability to pronounce 'sublimi- nal', or his meticulous pronunciation of `asshole', or his alleged dyslexia. Likewise, no one cared about whether he hugged Oprah, kissed Oprah or recreated the refrigerator scene from 91/2 Weeks on her stomach. It's only the media who persist in seeing the road to the White House as a wildly careering series of hairpin bends instead of a perfectly straight two-lane highway. Here's what really happened in the last month or so: after the Democratic Convention, Al belatedly solidified his base, as Dubya had done back in the spring. The Democrats' core constituencies took a lot longer to warm up to Al, and only really came on board in late August. The 'Gore surge' was a tardy consolidation, that's all.

3) Senator Joe Lieberman The soi-disant 'conscience of the Senate' has gone bananas. He was on a late-night talk-show the other day singing 'My Way'. The whole thing. I wonder if, from time to time, Al isn't thinking, Regrets, I have a few. . . .

4) Florida I've never been a big fan of the Sunshine State, but this time those guys have really lost their marbles. As the media never cease mentioning, Dubya is currently stuck in a dead heat in Florida, even though, given that his brother's the governor, he should have locked it up weeks ago. Well, if all those geezers in their retirement con- dos are seriously considering plumping for Gore, the sooner we toss 'em in the sea and make 'em swim to Cuba the better.

But here's a more interesting question: why the big deal about Dubya's inability to nail down his brother's state when Al Gore can't even nail down his own state? According to Rasmussen (the most accu- rate pollsters during primary season), Bush is one point ahead of Gore in Tennessee. According to most of the other polls, it's a toss-up. Candidates have been elected without carrying their home state just thrice — Nixon in 1968, Wilson in 1916 and James Polk, another Tennesseean, in 1844. Maybe Al will be the fourth. But most candidates who fail to carry their home state have usually been the real big- time losers. What does it say about Al that the folks who supposedly know him best are most antipathetic to him?

5) Gas prices Gas prices are just nuts over here! It's up to $1.50 a gallon! Can you imagine? It's outrageous! I expect you British chaps are roaring your heads off laughing: Ameri- cans must be saps to put up with those kind of obscene prices. So last week Al called for the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, which are only supposed to be used for national emergencies such as war. Amazingly, a day later the President announced the release of said oil. Dubya, waggishly calling it the Strategic Political Reserves, pointed out that back in February Al had been opposed to releasing any oil. But now, apparently, the vice-president is concerned about failed Opec promises to increase production. Funnily enough, most of us were under the impression that for the last decade and a half Al's been all in favour of decreasing oil production. This is, after all, the guy who, in his famous eco-tome Earth in the Balance, called the internal-combus- tion engine 'the single greatest threat to our civilisation'. The problem now seems to be that many of those Single Greatest Threats — particularly the top-of-the-line, gas-guzzling, four-wheel drive SGTs — are driven by swing voters. Rebutting Dubya's view of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, Al did his usual shtick and claimed to have invented 'em: 'I've been a part of the dis- cussions on the strategic reserve since the days when it was first established.' For the record, President Ford established the reserves in 1975, two years before young Al was first elected to Congress.

6) Al Gore Al has always been kinda weird, but these days he's off the graph. I'm no Gail Shee- hy, but I'd say he's suffering from what Churchill used to call his 'black dog' depressions. In Al's case, the dog is the family's pet Labrador, Shiloh. As the first Android-American to run for president, he's always gone to inhuman lengths to humanise himself, but a heartwarming anecdote about his mother-in-law, Mar- garet Ann Aitcheson, and his dog Shiloh, which he lifted from a Congressional report about the comparative costs of arthritis medicine, backfired horribly. Medically speaking, Al has by far the most interesting condition in the Gore house- hold. On 19 September, while addressing a Teamsters meeting, he claimed that his favourite lullaby as a child had been the Union anthem, 'Look for the Union Label', a song not written until 1975, by which time Al was already 27 and presum- ably allowed by his parents to stay up late working on inventing the Strategic Petroleum Reserves.

That's one reason I tend to favour the android explanation. Al has clearly been programmed with human responses but not in any coherent way connected to nor- mal memory processes. What lullabies are really playing in his head? Or did he not have to be sung to sleep at all as a wee bairn? Was he simply switched off and hooked up to his recharger?

Faced with a man who endlessly re- invents himself and lies stupidly about everything from childhood lullabies to his dog's medication, the press has decided that, au contraire, the stupid guy is Dubya, whose campaign is so unsophisticated it's unable to reinvent itself. I believe this is what Mrs Sheehy calls 'displacement'. Actually, that's yet another reason the governor is the best thing to happen to American politics in a long time. The Bush campaign is, by contemporary stan- dards, completely inept. Something trivial blows up and, instead of getting their doc- tors out to spin the story, the Bush camp say, 'Er, well, you've caught us on the hop there, give our rapid-response team a chance to mull it over and we'll get back to you next week.' And guess what? The strategy works. In an election where everyone else — press, Gore, panicking Republicans — is, by any rational stan- dard, completely deranged, Dubya is the still, calm, albeit somewhat incoherent voice of sanity. He just stands there while everyone else yo-yos all around him. He never changes. After he was overheard calling Adam Clymer of the New York Times a 'major-league asshole', the press charged him with being insincere. For what it's worth, I think the episode demonstrates Dubya's sincerity. Invited to apologise for calling Mr Asshole a major- league Clymer, Dubya said only that he regretted a private remark had been

picked up by the microphones. take a non-panderer who stands firm over an insecure weirdsmobile any day.

That's why I'll stick with my prediction of a Dubya victory, and I'm not worried about the debates, either. Al's bite may be worse than his arthritic dog's bark, but the minute those two guys are side by side on the same stage it's over. Uh-oh. I can hear the guys from the funny farm coming up the stairs again. So I'd better sign off before I get a tranquilliser dart in the Clymer.