By Brian McGeachan

“CLASH of the Titans.” “An election like no other.” This week we’re hearing hyperbole from spinmiesters not spoken since . . well, since the last American election.

It might be true. But catching spinmiesters telling the truth is rare. They run the risk of being given a good name.

I campaigned for Democrat contender Gary Hart. We first met when he delivered a lecture at Edinburgh University in 1985. Armed with an entourage and Kennedyesque mannerisms, Hart had the faculty and students swooning. He quoted Yeats and Kierkegaard, and spoke of a “Third Way” vision that eschewed Reagan’s Me Generation values.

Vice-Chancellor Sir John Burnett who, as a Royal Naval Commando had shared a cave with Marshall Tito, pegged me as a junior insurrectionist. Sir John was one of nature’s gentlemen, and encouraged Hart’s key aide Oliver “Pudge” Henkel to keep in touch with me and some friends. But it wasn’t until Hart’s official run in April 1987 that, full of acne and ideals, we were able to – in American parlance – “make good”on our pledge.

The omens did not favour us. We were deposited in Oklahoma City and Anchoridge, Alaska. Cities where voters considered Ted Kennedy to be a Marxist and New York to resemble a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Listening to Hart one balmy evening in Georgia he sounded like America’s last, best hope. Never resorting to inflammatory power, he spoke in a thoughtful style reminiscent of Adlai Stevenson, a man for whom elbow patches were invented. Poetry fuelled our dreams that night.

But hope was triumphing over reality. Hart looked to forge a coalition of the unionised and marginalised with aspirant yuppies who felt no blood knot to welfare and trade unions; a middle of the road muddle. Do the disenfranchised really deserve laissez-faire lite? An air-conditioned jungle?

By the time I heard him in Maine, Hart had secured front-runner status and the party machine was taking over. The insurgent was becoming establishment. Platitudes now exposed him as the air guitar of political ideology. After a staid speech he pressed the flesh to a soft rock soundtrack, before flying off to fundraise with Warren Beatty and Ed Asner.

Pressing the flesh was something Hart took to a little too literally when willing women presented themselves. He soon went down on the good ship Monkey Business with model Donna Rice. Republican George Bush’s handlers torpedoed what was left of Hart’s candidacy with the bumper sticker: “In your heart you know it’s Bush. In your bush you know it’s Hart.”

So, the JFK tribute act ended. But the Madison Avenue approach to electioneering accelerated, pitting style against substance. The message, if there is one, became secondary to a professional troupe of media manipulators.

Now, image handlers, shock troops and monstering ensure even the noblest campaigns are enmeshed in expediency.

This adventure taught me youthful idealism has a place. That place is when you’re youthful.

It also taught me history isn’t biography. History is the coalescing of forces involving disparate groups with competing demands. Personality cults are destructive to the democratic spirit.

This side of the pond real power resides increasingly with the executive rather than the legislature. More so with our unelected civil service. For good or ill the mandarins rule, regardless of the party machine elected.

If politicos have any purpose now it’s in their ability to craft a vision that inspires and doesn’t deepen the prevailing cynicism.

Hemingway instructed writers to write one true line. Where are our politicians speaking clear truth?

Brian McGeachan is an author and playwright