Out of the West: Balls come out as candidates play the macho game

WASHINGTON - I had not spotted the danger, but the photographer standing beside me, more experienced in such matters, most certainly had. 'Uh- oh,' she warned, pointing to the football which just happened to be lying there at Chicago's Midway Airport during a stop-over on the Clinton-Gore campaign last week. 'This looks bad. It's macho time again.'

And sure enough, when they emerged to board their planes, our two heroes threw off their jackets and made a beeline for that football. Seconds later they were bounding around throwing ferocious passes, a couple of regular jocks. No matter that we were already half an hour behind schedule. Rule one of a candidate's life is that punctuality comes a distant second to Godliness. And Godliness, as far as Campaign '92 is concerned, means looking virile and getting your photo taken.

What is it about US presidential elections that brings out the sportsman? Not that it took much bringing out in the case of George Bush. His entire term of office has been one endless athletic proving ground, from horseshoes to golf to jogging to baseball to - most recently - the un-American activity of soccer. Maybe the prospect of the 1994 World Cup on US soil beckons, maybe it was the cruder matter of the Hispanic vote. There, spread across Sunday's papers, was the 41st President in a minutely choreographed kick- around with the six- and seven- year-olds of the Plaza Grill team in Montgomery, Alabama.

But you expect this sort of thing from Mr Bush. Less easily explained are Bill Clinton's tendencies in the same direction.

To put it politely, based on what I've seen so far, he is not one of nature's games-players. Mr Clinton on the run is a grisly spectacle, less a jog than a leaden plod. But every morning on the campaign trail, 'The Jog' is the first item on the agenda for pool coverage. Not only must it be done (the candidate tends to be overweight); it must be seen to be done. The same goes for Mr Clinton lumbering round the bases on the softball diamond, another occasional campaign event. Judging by what I witnessed at Midway Airport, he is marginally happier with a football in his hands. The question remains, why do they do it?

The answer, surely, lies deep in the American psyche. Part of it is the dreaded 'wimp factor'. Whatever else, a US politician here must never appear a wimp - just ask Mr Bush, who spent most of the 1980s trying to throw off that label. Perceived wimpishness has destroyed many a presidential contender: from Ed Muskie who ruined his chances in 1972 by weeping in public at a letter attacking his wife, to Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Another cardinal rule is never, never, betray a fondness for the cerebral side of life. Intellectualism is first cousin of wimpishness and the related sin of womanliness (which may explain it is so difficult for a woman to run for president). Take Adlai Stevenson, who in the 1950s earned the deadly epithet of 'egghead' in his two losing contests against Dwight Eisenhower. The New York Daily News had a field day, berating 'Adelaide' and his friendliness with 'lace-panty diplomats'.

Thus, Mr Bush's attacks on Mr Clinton and his fellow 'social engineers from Oxford' honour a long tradition. And that explains why Mr Clinton, arguably the most expert and intellectually prepared of any recent candidate for the White House, would rather be seen dead right now than with a book.

But, you may argue, there is still more to it. Starting with George Washington, is not the battle for the presidency a re-enactment of that quintessential American drama of the ordinary guy who becomes a hero by taking on and vanquishing the system? Thus the symbolism of the debates, as ritualised single combat and test of spiritual manliness. Note, too, that the campaign trail sports are those of Everyman: baseball, football, basketball - but certainly not golf. Golf is Mr Bush's favourite - but far too elitist for the campaign trail. The liberator of Kuwait could be seen striding the fairways of Kennebunkport, but not an underdog fighting to hang on to the White House.

Which leaves Ross Perot. He doesn't jog or throw footballs (at least not in public); indeed he scarcely campaigns at all. But in other respects he fits this theory perfectly, the living myth of the little man who took on Vietnam, General Motors, and most lately the established order of Washington. The recipe was perfect. A pity he sees conspiracy at every turn. If not, he might have won.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before