It's not easy being Dick Cheney. This summer, our Dick has been busy making campaign speeches across the country, but he does not like to be heckled. He and Boy George prefer their wisdom to go unchallenged at rallies, which is why their campaign speeches are invariably ticket-only events - with the tickets going to fully paid-up Republicans. But what if those awful Democrats tried to infiltrate a Bush-Cheney rally?
The Republicans now have the answer. Our Dick held a big rally in New Mexico a few days ago, but anybody whose loyalty to the cause was remotely in doubt had to sign a pledge to get in. People were asked to complete: "I, [full name], do herby [sic] endorse George W Bush for re-election." The form went on to warn all those who signed that they were "consenting to the use and release of your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush". The wheeze worked out beautifully when our Dick finally spoke to his audience. "I really like this crowd," he ad libbed brilliantly.
This says a lot, I fear, about how the 2004 presidential campaign is shaping up. It is already the most homogenised campaign in history: every new idea that either side comes up with is focus-grouped to death first. The mighty television networks say the reason they screened only three hours of the Democratic convention in Boston is because there's no spontaneity left in such stage-managed party political events.
It will be even worse, I predict, when the Republicans begin their convention in New York on 30 August. All we can hope for now is that some glorious mistakes will be made when the live and televised presidential debates, due to start a month later, finally get under way.
Meanwhile, John Kerry has moved up a point in my personal poll: I now put him at 52 and Bush at 48. In one of the new polls issued last Monday, Kerry comes out at 49, Bush at 42 and Ralph Nader at three. In an encouraging new twist for the Democrats, a majority of voters think for the first time that Kerry will beat Bush in November. On Iraq, the two are now tied on 46 - and that was an issue Bush was winning by 15 points in March. Bush's approval ratings have sunk to 45.
Kerry still has to develop a common touch, and must avoid the kind of soundbite where he says (as he did a few days ago on coast-to-coast television) that the Bush administration has "an ideological fixation". But he has embarked on a cross-country bus tour, heading from the east coast to the west, and is beginning to acquire the aura of a possible winner. In contrast, Bush is sounding more desperate, telling Republicans in his wheedling voice that Kerry has a 19-year record in the Senate with "no signature achievements" (compared, presumably, with Bush's stellar six years as governor of Texas).
The atmosphere in Washington is such that there is serious talk of what a Kerry administration would be like. The surest sign that people now consider this a real possibility is that hopeful Democrats have begun pulling out and polishing their CVs to present to a Kerry transition team - furious lobbying for posts in a new administration started at the convention in Boston.
The gossip swirling around Washington is that Richard Holbrooke, the veteran of US foreign policy and assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton, would be Kerry's secretary of state. There has already been a sad casualty over this position: the man earmarked for it was Samuel "Sandy" Berger, Clinton's national security adviser and the Kerry campaign's main consultant on foreign issues. But in a series of bizarre incidents that even his closest friends cannot explain, Berger was found to have removed memos about the actions he took against al-Qaeda from the national archives. The only convincing explanation is that he wanted to burnish his CV by suppressing all possibly unfavourable material. The result is, he is out.
If the gossips are to be believed, the post of national security adviser would go to James Rubin, formerly Clinton's State Department spokesman and now an adviser to Kerry. The Pentagon would probably be given to a Republican; both JFK and Clinton made cross-party appointments to show they were tough on defence. The man most commonly mentioned for the post is the former Senator William Cohen, who was Clinton's defence secretary. Dick Gephardt, a Democratic opponent to Kerry in the primaries, might well get the Department of Labour. The former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen could be a new secretary of health and human services.
They all hope they will be appointed to a Kerry administration, at least. A few months ago - even weeks ago - a Kerry administration looked unlikely, if not impossible. But the tide has turned. Kerry is looking good, Bush bad, and a very close race is now under way.