Three men in a vote, Part One

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FIRST the good news: I am not bringing you the entire text of the Maastricht treaty this morning. Now the bad news: instead, I am bringing you the full text of the first televised debate in the US presidential campaign.

Bush: Hi, Bill.

Clinton: George, hi] How's it going?

Bush: Just dandy.

Clinton: Me, too. Sorry you're so far behind in the polls.

Bush: What? Oh, I don't worry, as long as I come in first in the only poll that matters.

Clinton: Good for you, George. I'd say the same if I had to . . . Who's the other fella?

Bush: Secret Service?

Clinton: Can't be. No gun.

Perot: Can I introduce myself to you? Ross Perot is the name.

Bush: Right] So, are you in the race or not at the moment?

Perot: I'm back in the race and raring to go]

Bush: Great] Well, let us know if at any time during the debate you want to drop out, then we can rearrange the chairs, OK?

Perot: And I have never at any time put an electronic bug on anyone, unless I knew them real well already.

Bush: Good. Fine. Now, I suggest we stick to a straightforward agenda. I propose that I kick off talking about Bill Clinton's lack of patriotism, his efforts to dodge the draft and his fomenting of anti-American feeling at Oxford University. Then we might wind up with a vote of thanks all round.

Clinton: Hold on there, Mr President. I love my country. I am a patriot. I may have hated wars into which a previous government dragged us. That is all.

Bush: The government dragged, as you say, our country into the Vietnam war. But it didn't drag you into the war. How come it had so little control over your actions, when it had so much over the rest of the country?

Clinton: I might as well ask you how come the government today has so little control over the biggest national deficit in history. I might ask how you, as president, could have borne the humiliation of the national disgrace of this deficit. I might even ask, if I were small-minded enough, how much you must hate this great country of ours to inflict this deficit on it. But I don't.

Perot: And I might say that once you have listened to these two guys, you may feel tempted to vote for me to get things straightened out.

Clinton: Is that your position?

Perot: No. My position is that I am getting out of the race right now.

Clinton: Well, that seems to restore it to a two-horse race, which makes it easier for one of us two to win. And while we are on the subject of foreign policy, may I just point out that we have the largest budget deficit in the history of the world?

Bush: That has nothing to do with foreign policy.

Clinton: I know that. But I am not sure if you know that. I have noticed that whenever the subject of the deficit is brought up, you switch the agenda to foreign policy, in which you are supposedly a wizard, so I thought I would make the switch for you.

Perot: May I just say that during the last few minutes I have been deluged with billions of phone calls urging me to get back in the election and stand up for the little man? So now I'm back in the race and raring to go again.

Bush: Well, that's fine. I suggest now we turn to the vexed problem of Middle East peace and Operation Desert Storm.

Clinton: I think you'll find, Mr President, that Operation Desert Storm has been over for more than a year.

Bush: But have the lessons been learnt? Where else in recent years have we seen such wilful destruction as in Kuwait?

Clinton: Well, how about Los Angeles? How about Florida? How about . . ?

Bush: And where, incidentally, were you during the Gulf war? How come you evaded the draft and saw no action in Iraq? Were you back in London organising anti-Gulf war movements?

Clinton: Well, at least I wasn't hiding all my love letters to my old buddy Saddam Hussein, not like some people who are in the White House at present. Nor was I covering up my Irangate traces. Nor was I . . .

Perot: I have an announcement. In response to intense public demand, I have just decided to come back into the race.

Bush: But you are already in it, as of this moment.

Perot: Right. Then I'm getting out. But I have a tip for you two boys. Why don't you do the same? I think a campaign with no front-runner would be kinda interesting.

The Great Debate continues.