Magazine article The Spectator

The Long Goodbye

Magazine article The Spectator

The Long Goodbye

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

THE United States's sudden decision to implement a Westminster constitution has passed off surprisingly smoothly. As you know, a system such as Britain's distinguishes between the 'dignified' and the 'efficient' parts of the constitutional order. After a doubtful two-century experiment in combining the two, America has wised up. For the foreseeable future, Bill Clinton will be staggering around like a dissolute monarch, accompanied by a fall supporting dynasty of dodgy princelings, while George W. Bush gets on with... oh, pardon me, I should explain for non-Beltway insiders that Mr Bush is a pleasant middleaged man currently serving in the low-profile job of President of the United States. Anyway, Mr Bush gets on with the day-today business of governing, like a not terribly exciting prime minister.

This division of responsibilities seems to suit both men just fine. Mr Bush can concentrate on his priorities - tax cuts, missile defence - thereby freeing up Mr Clinton to concentrate on his priority: himself. The allegedly former President dominates the front page. One day, he's overheard doing lesbian jokes in a swank restaurant; the next, his brother-in-law Tony Rodham - if you're keeping score, he's the one behind the hazelnut scam in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia - is all over the papers for arranging a pardon for some crooked fairground operators he persuaded Hillary to hire for a carnival on the White House lawn in 1998. In fairness to Mr Clinton, in the lists of scrapes your no-account brother-in-law is likely to get into, a hazelnut scam in the Caucasus must rank as something of a long shot. Conversely, in fairness to Mr Rodham, however tacky the carnival on the White House lawn was, it surely didn't compare to the circus going on inside the building.

Meanwhile, Mr Bush gave his first joint address to Congress, carried live on every major network. No one watched. The new President attracted barely half of Mr Clinton's audience eight years ago. But Dubya's poll numbers soared. His unwatched speech boosted his approval ratings to 67 per cent. Americans of all creeds and colours stayed fixed to their cop shows, sitcoms, transsexual wrestling tournaments, and then pronounced the Bush speech a smash. After eight years of the bully in the bully pulpit, seasoned observers are having a difficult time adjusting to a presidency where the carny sideshow has a permanent `Back In Five Minutes' sign hanging on the booth. True, Mr Bush did give his first formal press conference. But he scheduled this appearance immediately after Senator Rodham Clinton came out to issue various implausible denials on the subject of pardons, pay-offs, and whether or not she could recall if she had any siblings. The result was predictable: 'I Did Not Have Fraternal Relations With That Brother!', page 1; `Man Gives Press Conference', page 23. Democrats are now accusing the Oval Office of practising a lethal kind of anti-- spin, sending their man out in public only when everyone's looking the other way.

It may be objected, of course, that the 'dignified' end of this dignified/efficient separation is notably undignified. But Mr Bush is for the moment being ruthlessly efficient, driving his $1.6 trillion tax cut through Congress with a single-mindedness that seems to have taken Democrats by surprise. Perhaps they made the mistake of believing their own sneers about the pliant boob promoted way over his head by pals of his dad. On the late-night talk-shows, the dummy gags are on their last legs. There's no mileage in them, he hasn't said anything sufficiently entertainingly moronic for some time, and Clinton and his cokehead/lardbutt/hazelnut relatives keep adding new and diverting subplots. Some Dems, crediting the vast rightwing conspiracy with a greater degree of sophistication than it normally exhibits, mutter darkly that it was the Bush crowd themselves that started the bonehead jokes just to sucker everyone. …

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