To the Wire
S uddenly, in the final weeks, the return engagement of George Bush in his hit 1988 role as the Terminator seemed to be paying off again. The president and his team had put on one of the most unremittingly negative campaigns in our contemporary history, so strident that his own substantial virtues and his newly minted agenda for America were barely afterthoughts to the violence of his assault and battery on Bill Clinton. His handlers called his line of attack T&T, for taxes and trust, and once he finally got his lines straight in the third debate, it began drawing blood. The race narrowed giddily; for the first time since Labor Day, Bush's lieutenants could seriously imagine his winning a second term.
His situation in fact was more nearly remission than recovery, but while it lasted, it was white-knuckle time again in Clinton's War Room in Little Rock -- a bungee jump from a double-digit lead to five points in their own polling and to one in the most discouraging of the public surveys. The challenger's team couldn't be sure that he had touched bottom, and a campaign then still being taxed in the press with its overconfidence found itself in a state approaching terror.
"How scared are you?" George Stephanopoulos asked, dropping by James Carville's office one night for company watching the evening news.
"How scared?" Carville replied. "I'm this scared: if we lose, I won't commit suicide, but I'll serious contemplate it."
It was, ironically, Ross Perot who had set off their latest angst attack with his dominating performance in the last debate. Till then, he had been almost a de facto ally, concentrating most of his fire on the president; the enemy of their enemy had become, to that degree, their friend. But in East Lansing, he had turned on Clinton, bracketing him with Bush as twins separated at birth. The two of them were, in Perot's rendering, the look-alike progeny of a discredited political establishment; neither one had the wit, the plan, or the courage to do