The US Presidential Elections: Convention Diary: 'Potatoe Kid' gets a lesson in spelling

THE Democratic faithful have confessed their liberal sins of the past, pledged themselves to a new life of middle-of-the-road righteousness, and the church doors of Madison Square Garden are swinging shut. Political worship in the US, especially at conventions, is always something of a religious experience. Take the best orators of this week, and all, except perhaps the New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, lent heavily on Biblical reference and priestly cadence to stir their congregation.

The Rev Jesse Jackson is the best qualified, of course, but Bill Clinton, in his acceptance speech, offered what he calls his 'New Covenant' for America and repeatedly intoned the refrain: 'Where there is no vision, the people perish'. Behind him on the podium, incidentally, sat the Rev Vic Nixon, the United Methodist minister who married Bill and Hillary in 1975.

South of the Garden, a shop offering Christian collectables, Altar Egos, had apparently decided that the Republicans were more deserving of heavenly blessing. A poster in its window invited delegates to exchange their convention badges for the medal of St Jude - the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes.

As ever in America, the holiest act of them all is the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. Even at such a sacred moment, though, the Democrats could not resist the chance for a political shot, with Vice-President Dan Quayle once again the target. The person chosen to deliver the Pledge was 12-year-old William Figueroa, the schoolboy recently prompted by Mr Quayle to misspell potato with an 'e' on the end. Now dubbed the Potatoe Kid, he was introduced to delegates by the Texas Governor, Ann Richards, as 'someone who knows the next President of the United States spells his name C-L-I-N-T-O-N'.

A tough break for all those publishers with big dollars already invested in new books on the Texas quitter, Ross Perot ('What a Wimp' screamed the New York Post headline yesterday). Warner Books has 500,000 copies of Ross Perot in His Own Words on the shelves and Random House has just brought out Ross Perot: The Man Behind the Myth. A Random spokesman, Peter Vertes, was stoic about it. 'That's the risk you take when you do an instant book,' he said.

Opposite the Garden, meanwhile, the Barnes and Noble bookshop has had its windows packed with political thumb-suckers and biographies for passing delegates. Its bestseller of the week: The new Tom Clancy blockbuster, The Sum of All Fears. Aside from the casting of Bill Clinton as the new JFK, his image as a latter-day Elvis has also been played for all it is worth. The official convention directory included 'Mr Elvis Presley', delegate from Memphis, and posters have been on sale all week for dollars 35 (pounds 18) featuring the new US Post Office Elvis stamp with the King's visage replaced by handsome Bill's. No sax-playing on the podium, but the nominee did play a few bars at a post-convention fund-raising night at the Palladium Club.

Numbers played by the band this week included 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow' after Mr Clinton's acceptance speech, and Paul Simon's 'You Can Call Me Al' for Al Gore. Jerry Brown's Wednesday night speech was appropriately rounded off with a burst of the old theme from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

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