The US Presidential Elections: Campaign Diary

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ROMEO and Juliet, the Second Act. First, The story so far: James Carville, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign, and Mary Matalin, deputy chairman of the Bush campaign, are in love. Some say they are secretly married. Mary says she has difficulty in separating 'her James' from the political enemy, whose face she would like to 'tear off'.

Act Two, Scene One: After the first debate, in St Louis, the candidates' aides are telling fibs to journalists - 'spinning', in the jargon. Mary, claiming that Bush won, finds herself back to back with James, insisting that Clinton won. They turn, look at each other appalled, and dive back into the crowd.

Act Two, Scene Two: After the third debate, in Michigan, snow is falling. Mary insists that Bush won, etc. A few yards away, James, in his usual jeans and T-shirt, says Clinton won.

After a few moments, Mary breaks away, hands James a coat and says with sweet sternness: 'Don't go home without it.'

THE campaign ends in the snows of Michigan in October but began in the snows of New Hampshire in February. A hilariously nasty new movie, Feed, winds back to the first primary by assembling snippets of film shot before, and after, the candidates appeared on air.

Bill Clinton is seen, waiting for his cue, scowling a Machiavellian scowl and practising his boyish grin. At one point, he coldly describes to an aide a debate the night before. 'It was a boring debate. I didn't say much . . . I just wanted them to look at me and think I could be president.' Jerry Brown, the people's tribune, constantly rearranges his Bobby Charlton hair-do and adjusts his tie. Paul Tsongas is as funny and likeable off-camera as he was stodgy and boring on-camera.

The movie's silent star is George Bush. The editing returns again and again to the President waiting in the Oval Office for the start of an interview with a New Hampshire television station. Over his face skitter all the emotions of a long political year: exhaustion, anger, petulance, goofiness, vacancy. Mostly, the President looks wistfully bored, as if he wished he were playing golf.

WHO says US politics has no lefties? Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and George Bush are all left-handers, the first time the whole field of candidates in a presidential race has been so blessed, or afflicted.

What can it mean? Kim Kipers, managing editor of Left-Handers magazine, says we should not be surprised: 'Left-handers are more creative and assertive, on the whole, than right-handers. From early childhood they have to find their own solutions to problems in a right-handed world.'

The magazine asked the three candidates to describe what left- handedness meant to them. In their replies, you shall know them: Ross Perot said, in effect, it was a private matter and no one else's business. Bill Clinton said it was never an issue that had been brought up before - but he planned to be an even-handed president. President Bush said he sometimes put his elbow in other people's soup at state dinners.

A new book, selling well in the US, The Left-Hander Syndrome, takes a darker view. Stanley Coren, a Canadian psychology professor, says his research suggests that left-handedness is a 'pathological condition', caused by neurological damage before birth. Professor Coren says left- handers are more subject to alcoholism, depression, epilepsy and drug abuse than right-handers. They also die earlier.

JAY LENO, worthy successor to Johnny Carson as host of NBC's Tonight Show, summed up the debates this way: 'Ross Perot said the key to reducing the deficit will be to measure twice and cut once. Boy, too bad his barber didn't follow that advice.'