Most of us have been in the uncomfortable position of being unwilling witnesses to a domestic quarrel. It can happen at a party, with a couple suddenly snapping at each other. Or maybe the pair at the next table in a restaurant, with him snarling and her bursting into tears. Or her snarling and him bursting into tears. Or both snarling and bursting into tears. As a philosopher once said: "Who needs it?"
But who would think that we would have to be exposed to this sort of embarrassing stuff in a presidential campaign?
I'm referring to the relationship between Mary Matalin, who is deputy manager of President Bush's campaign, and James Carville, a top strategist in Gov. Bill Clinton's campaign.
In their non-political lives, Ms. Matalin and Mr. Carville are significant others. Or as President Bush might put it: "The romance thing."
But currently they are tending to business, which means they are working mightily to elect their chosen candidates.
And that has created a highly distasteful situation.
A few days ago, Ms. Matalin, known for her sharp wit, --ed off an unflattering statement about Clinton and "sniveling, hypocritical Democrats." Apparently she was upset about all the unkind things the Democrats have been saying about Bush.
She really zapped Clinton, even getting in digs about his ample waistline, by saying: "You feel like a one-man landfill? No, Willie, it's not those Wendy's burgers or Dunkin' Donuts or even those scrumptious home-baked cookies. It's that Alka-Seltzer feeling you get when you're the leader of the 'garbage load.' "
And she tossed in a dig about "bimbo eruptions." This, of course, was to jog our memories about that blab-for-profit blond creature who claimed Clinton was her lover boy.
Ms. Matalin's outburst was kind of fun, if you enjoy old-time political mudslinging. And down deep, most of us do.
But President Bush, ever the proper preppie, had already vowed that there would be no "sleaze" in his campaign.
And it might have also occurred to him that the majority of adult men in this country have to struggle with protruding midsections and might sympathize with Clinton. As far behind as he is in the polls, Bush can't afford to alienate the beer-belly vote.
So Bush had to disavow her statement, saying: "This is not how I want to run the campaign." (However, most White House observers suspect that Bush, a skinny guy, secretly enjoyed seeing Clinton teased for being a pudge.)
And Ms. Matalin had to fall in line and write a statement expressing halfhearted regret at her outburst. (However, most observers suspect that she didn't regret it at all and wrote the apology with her fingers crossed.)
But the most discomfort was exhibited by Mr. Carville. The poor guy didn't know what to say. There he is, loyally working for Clinton. At the same time, his main squeeze is ridiculing Clinton as a junk-food tubbo and a philanderer.
And the situation led to the New York Times writing the following: "Was Ms. Matalin overly tough on Mr. Clinton to compensate for her romance with Mr. Carville?"
If they should ever wed, what kind of thing is that to put in the family scrapbook? "Look, kids, this is what they wrote when your mom chopped up the fellow I was working for, hah-hah."
So Carville, after a long period of speechlessness, finally said: "This has nothing to do with Mary Matalin. It's all about George Bush."
Of course, that didn't make sense, because it was his very own sweetie, not Bush, who suggested that Clinton was a "one-man landfill."
And instead of standing around like a mope, what Carville should have done was say something to diffuse the tension.
Since I'm older and wiser in the ways of female creatures, I'll give him some free advice.
The next time she cuts loose that way, Carville ought to just chuckle and say:
"Well, you know my Mary. She's a feisty thing, with lots of spunk. That's why I love that gal. Says whatever pops into her cute li'l head. And I'm gonna send her a fax right now saying: 'Did anyone ever tell you that you're real pretty when you're mad?' "
It works every time.