AMERICAN ELECTION: The hyper-helper takes a break

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The Independent Online
In all the turmoil since Bill Clinton burst upon the national scene in 1991, there has been one constant: the presence at his side and in his counsels of a small tousle-haired and impossibly youthful figure called George Stephanopoulos. Now at the tender age of 35, George Stephanopoulos has had enough.

But in those five years he created a brand new political character: the hip, workaholic back-room whizzkid, Republican as well as Democrat, who plots strategy, monitors polls, dispenses spin and strong-arms the talkshows, subsisting on pizzas and Diet-Pepsi during this round-the-clock service as his master's alter ego.

The result has been celebrity. What private life he has time for is prime fodder for the Washington gossip columnist. He was the model for the narrator of Primary Colors, Joe Klein's wicked roman-a-clef of a certain southern governor's 1992 campaign, and for the hyperkinetic aide of Michael Douglas in The American President. Along with the consultant James Carville, he starred in War Room, a documentary on the Clinton command centre in Little Rock four years ago.

But for all his celebrity Mr Stephanopoulos, perhaps as befits the son of a Greek orthodox priest, was the model of discretion. So discreet indeed during a brief tenure as Mr Clinton's chief spokesman in 1993, that he ordered the door between the White House press room and his office to be locked. The gesture earned him the enmity of White House reporters and contributed to the appalling public image of the Clinton administration in its first two years.

But in his subsequent role of back-stage counsellor of the President however he has had few peers. Some see him as a future congressman or senator. But right now, what he wants above all is a change of scenery.