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In the beginning, there was George Bush the insider, inside the White House. He liked being an insider, and he liked being inside the White House, the insidest place of all. And the best thing about it? When you're inside the White House, you can fly around outside the White House anywhere you want. Until his advisers said, "Stay inside awhile." They were getting nervous about the Democrats.

In the beginning, there weren't that many Democrats to get nervous about. Nobody wanted to take George Bush on: He was the insider, after all, experienced and seasoned, and look at his numbers. So the Democrats who decided to run were mostly outsiders - an out-of-work this, a not-quite that, and a smattering of other folks.Then an odd thing happened: The insider numbers started going down. People didn't like where the country was heading. They weren't sure they wanted insiders anymore. So the outsiders started bragging about how outside they were.

By the time they got to New Hampshire - Kerrey and Harkin, Tsongas and Clinton and Brown - they were taking that outsider message up and down the countryside. People seemed to be listening, and the candidates who were doing the best were the ones best able to get their message out: "I'm not on the inside- I'm on your side."

So there was George Bush, thinking he was getting it from all sides, but just when it couldn't get any worse, it did: Pat Buchanan hit him from the blind side. Buchanan was saying he was from the outside, too, even though he'd been inside as long as Bush had been inside.

People didn't really want Buchanan inside the White House, they said; his appeal had a certain underside, not to mention that some of his positions seemed to come straight from "The Far Side." But some of them voted for him anyway. Voting for Buchanan in a primary had a definite upside, they said: It would send Bush a message.

And inside the White House, Bush heard the message. No sooner had Buchanan started gaining ground running on the outside than Bush moved to the outside himself. He started running against Washington, the Congress, the arts endowment. He could be just as outside as Buchanan if he needed to be.

While on the Democratic side, the voters were sorting things out, too. Harkin, the senator, dropped out. Kerrey, the senator, dropped out. The three who were left - Tsongas, Clinton, Brown -were the furthest outside.

Clinton moved first. I want to change things, he said. He painted Tsongas as more-of-the-same, from the old school: inside. And Tsongas fell by the wayside.

People started moving to Clinton's side. They could win in November with a man from outside, they said - Clinton's the one. He started piling up delegates and endorsements. He was the outsider that even the insiders wanted.

So Jerry Brown launched a broadside.

Look at Bill Clinton, he said - he's got all the insiders on his side. He must be an insider, too. I'm the outsider, he said, even though he'd been inside (in his outsider way) longer than anybody on that side. But when he beat Clinton in Connecticut and moved on to New York, people were waiting at the curbside. I'm the outsider, said Brown. Warmed-over supply-sider, said Clinton.

East Side, West Side, all around the town, Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton turning outside upside down.

The voters, meanwhile, are contemplating suicide.