Magazine article The Spectator

When Bush Comes to Shove

Magazine article The Spectator

When Bush Comes to Shove

Article excerpt

ELIAN fever has passed, and the presidential candidates are tentatively resuming their campaigns. George Dubya Bush seems to have persuaded Congress not to hold hearings on the Cuban moppet: as his campaign manager told the Republican leadership in the Senate, `This Elian thing's a loser.' Al Gore, who overpandered and had to go into hiding, has resumed his stale catchphrases as if he'd never been away.

His favourite is Bush's `risky tax scheme', which he warns against incessantly, sometimes twice in one sentence. I counted 14 references to `Governor Bush's risky tax scheme' in one speech. A friend claims to have heard 19, though I believe one was a `reckless tax scheme', which, in the limited range of Gore speechwriters, counts as dazzling versatility. But mostly Al sticks to the original formulation: `In order to finance his risky tax scheme . . . ' Those of us familiar with the British pantomime tradition have to restrain ourselves from going `Ooooh!' or `Behind you!'

Al is beginning to remind me of Marisleysis, little Elian's 21-year-old cousin and self-proclaimed `surrogate mother', who's apparently been doing the Little Havana mambo with the fisherman who rescued the kid. Like Marisleysis, Al looks fabulous - buff, toned, cute ass - but, also like Marisleysis, he's beginning to sound hysterical. For his part, Dubya is more like Elian's dad, Juan Miguel. The more Marisleysis and Al claim that Juan Miguel and George Dubya are pawns, respectively, of Castro and the religious Right, the more sober and dignified they seem, if only by comparison. At which point this over-- extended analogy breaks down: while Marisleysis treats Elian like a six-year-old boy, Al treats the electorate like a slow five-year-old. Meanwhile, the media, still mourning John McCain, have decided that this election campaign's got less chance of catching fire than an igloo in Queen Maud Gulf. What a contest, they sigh. It's Dumb and Dullsville.

Their attempt at non-partisan ennui, while admirable, is not entirely convincing. AI Gore isn't so much dull as weird, which is quite another thing entirely, and far more sinister. As for George Dubya Bush, sure, some of us would prefer it if he knew that the Prime Minister of Canada was called Jean Chretien and not `Jean Poutine'. But I don't believe your average US network anchor could name the fellow either. Reporting yet another Dubya world-leaders `gaffe' in the Times, Ben Macintyre helpfully explained to his readers that Poutine was, in fact, `a fast-food chain'. Ah, the paper of record. Actually, it's a bowl of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds, and what passes for Quebec's national dish. In a know-nothing culture, why should Dubya be expected to be the only chap who's on top of things? In his commendably straightforward indifference to who's running Pakistan, Sierra Leone, France, Russia, you name it, and his comparative expertise on the plot and characters and catchphrases of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the man is almost spookily in tune with the times, as much as Washington and Lincoln in their day: the apotheosis of an American archetype.

Besides, `dumb' compared to whom? Al Gore is always written of as `intelligent', or `very intelligent', or `fiercely intelligent', or `ferociously intelligent'. He's certainly ferocious: just ask his fellow Democrat Bill Bradley, if you can find his remains. Those commentators who'd mistakenly cast Gore in the role of the tree were amazed to find that he'd taken the part of the wood chipper, and shredded Bradley and spat him out. But is he intelligent? Well, he wrote a book. I mean, really wrote it, not just put his name to it, like Dubya did with his volume A Charge to Keep, which is meant to be vaguely sonorous and inspirational but sounds to me like a non-deductible business expense on your credit-card statement. Anyway, AI actually wrote his book himself, and Earth in the Balance is not without its admirers - the Unabomber for one. …

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