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Playing Performance Politics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Are we having fun yet? The run-ups to the voting in Indiana and North Carolina kept Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama working on their performance art (and who knew that Ron Paul was still in the Republican race, but he won 7 percent of the vote in Indiana). Hillary joked slyly with George Stephanopoulos that Rush Limbaugh once had a crush on her. A girl sometimes takes what she gets.


Bill Clinton sighed and wailed like an exile from the Grand Ole Opry in the small towns of North Carolina. His Southern accent grew thicker and more mellifluous as voting approached, and he stopped just short of covering the old Tom T. Hall hymn to "old dogs, children and watermelon wine." He's a super-rich guy now, but he reminded everybody that he was raised on Arkansas barbecue: "I can smell that pig pickin', and you know I'm going to eat some later," he told a small audience in Dunn, population 10,000.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright turned the Obama campaign into a momentary farce, perhaps deliberately, repeating news of his discovery that the U.S. government invented the AIDS virus to wipe out blacks and complaining that the man whose soul he mentored had turned out to be (gasp) a politician. This time his whole sermon was outrageous and nobody could cry "context" (though The New York Times did). The only literary reference he brought to mind was taken from Samuel Coleridge's "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," with the preacher as the albatross around Obama's neck.

Galloping across the horizon, shadowing the campaigns in North Carolina and Indiana, was the soaring cost of gasoline. The solutions offered by Hillary and John McCain were reduced to comic debate when the argument devolved to whether a gas-tax holiday would save drivers 25 cents a day or 30 cents a day. This isn't a strategy to help out with the pocketbook, sneered Barack Obama, but a strategy to get through the next election.


We've been so focused on our endless presidential campaign, turned dark and drear, that we've ignored a political story that's actually fun. Boris Johnson, a journalist who talks too much for his own good (is there any other kind?), was elected mayor of London. Today, he is meeting with Michael Bloomberg of New York in London for advice on what it takes to run a large world capital. Boris will probably regale him with the story of his childhood dreams of running for president of the United States. But unlike Hillary and Barack Obama, he has a witty view of who he is. "My chances of being prime minister are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars or my being reincarnated as an olive."

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a name that might be more troublesome than Barack Hussein Obama, was Margaret Thatcher's favorite columnist when he was editor of the Spectator, the sassy London political weekly. The best of his irreverent jests have been collected and strewn across the Internet.

British commentators, with their penchant for Shakespeare, describe him as Falstaff, with the shrewd intelligence that endears him to those who may not like his politics but enjoy his company. He's known as a court jester, a buffoon with an untidy platinum-blond mop and whose cap of bells tolls for the Tories. He defeated Ken Livingston, the lefty incumbent of the Labor Party who was mayor of London for eight years, and this gives the Conservatives hope that they can unseat Prime Minister Gordon Brown within two years.


But Boris has a tongue that slices pretense fine, and in the spirit of a more raucous and impolitic rhetoric than ours his tongue sometimes cuts Tory, too. When he was campaigning for the Conservatives in 2005, he promised infamously that "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW." Many Tories, reprising the spirit of the queen -- Victoria, not Elizabeth -- were not amused. His habit of reaching for the laugh without regard for consequences earned him the name "Boris the Menace." It doesn't rhyme, but you get the idea.

My British friends were heartened that he stayed "on message" during the campaign, and his victory speech was serious and eloquently to the point: "Where there have been mistakes, we will rectify them; where there are achievements, we will build on them; where there are neglected opportunities, we will seize on them."

You can't make a better campaign promise than that. Tally ho!


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