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National Perspective | WASHINGTON INSIGHT

June 24, 1998|From The Times Washington Bureau

SEND IN THE CLOWNS? Life at the White House is not always a circus for the president and his advisors, but last weekend it was a carnival. President Clinton and the first lady hosted the press and their staff in back-to-back, old-fashioned fair parties Friday and Saturday. A Nashville-based carnival firm--owned by a Clinton supporter--donated the use of six big rides, including a Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, and set them up on the White House lawn. Shots rang out--but it was merely reporters trying to win stuffed toys at the arcade games. Their weapons included guns that shot Ping-Pong balls, guns that squirted water, ominous-looking machine guns that shot pellets and crossbows. When the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived, the Secret Service shut down the pellet guns and crossbows but allowed the water-squirting and Ping-Pong ball-shooting guns to fire away.

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MAKING NICE: The tableau of blinking lights, cotton candy and cheap stuffed animals within view of the Oval Office was surreal enough, but nothing could quite match the rather bizarre sight of the president chatting amiably with his adversaries in the media who have spent much of the year reporting on Clinton's troubles with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and a certain former White House intern. Nevertheless, the Clintons said (to more than a few raised eyebrows) that they brought in the carnival because they wanted to do something for the families of reporters, who spend long hours away from home chronicling the presidency.

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DAUGHTERS' PRIDE: On the tennis court at the Sidwell Friends' day camp here, 7-year-old Katherine Tauscher was showing off just a little to her 13-year-old coach, Justine Harman. "My mother's a congresswoman, what does yours do?" bragged Katherine, daughter of Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Pleasanton). Justine's mom is Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance), who also spent some time running for governor recently.

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NO JOKE: The American Heart Assn. delivered synthetic brains to all 100 senators and 434 members of the House last week. But this was no slam on their intelligence. The brain campaign was an attempt to educate lawmakers about the danger of strokes--which afflict 600,000 people every year and kill 160,000--and get them to invest federal funds in stroke research. A recent survey of elected officials and their staffs showed that only 4% of them knew that stroke is the No. 3 killer of Americans. Now, to remind them, lawmakers have a lifelike blob in a jar of purple liquid on their desks.

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GALLIC NO-COMMENT: Like most French leaders, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin speaks fluent English, learned at the School of National Administration that produces France's political elite. Jospin demonstrated his mastery of English at a breakfast in Blair House last week with American reporters. For more than an hour, Jospin replied fully to their questions--in English. Then a reporter asked him if he believed his meeting with Clinton had enhanced his standing in France and made him more likely to run against President Jacques Chirac in the 2002 French presidential election. It was the kind of question American politicians usually parry with a "no comment." Instead, Jospin looked around him in mock puzzlement and switched suddenly to his native language. "I can not understand a single word," he said in French. "It is as if a curtain has descended over my head." After the laughter subsided, Jospin regained his mastery of the English language and resumed the Q & A.

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