Mary Matalin is George Bush's deputy campaign manager. Her significant other is James Carville, Bill Clinton's principal political adviser. So naturally it is big news that when another Clinton campaign official whispered to Mr. Carville, "The White House has repudiated Mary," Mr. Carville was obviously shaken and his face turned grim.
So, a real case of bedfellows making strange politics. But for our part, and we suspect we are typical of non-Washington insiders, we are more curious about the relationship between Ms. Matalin and George Bush than the one between her and Mr. Carville. We don't understand it. After all, the president said he wanted his campaign run above the "sleaze" level. Then Ms. Matalin called the Democratic candidates "sniveling" and "hypocrital" and charged that Governor Clinton had a "bimbo" problem. Then a presidential spokesman announced that the president was "concerned" but had received an apology from Ms. Matalin.
In fact, however, her statement was anything but an apology. It was a sniveling, hypocritical circumlocution to the effect that some people thought her statement was sleazy and that she regrets that.
We sometimes feel we don't what kind of campaign George Bush wants. Perhaps his underlings are just as puzzled. Or perhaps they don't care and don't feel under his operational rTC control. It's not just the campaign staff, either. Last month White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, who is a career public employee, paid with taxpayers' money, who is supposed to tell the public what the president thinks, gave his own views of Bill Clinton. He called him "reckless" and "unqualified" to be president. So far as we know, George Bush has not reprimanded Mr. Fitzwater or even told him he is "concerned."
President Bush likes to say this election is about experience. But what does experience avail a president who cannot or will not -- in the midst of his fourth national political campaign, after 12 years as vice president and president -- make even his own assistants obey his expressed wishes?
There is another way to look at this, of course. It is that while George Bush cries almost tearfully to the public about how much he hates mudslinging and dirty politics, he's telling the Matalins and Fitzwaters "more sleaze." If true, that would be sniveling and hypocritical.