What do we think of when we hear the name Bruce Babbitt?

In the presidential polls, the man is nowheresville. Then what? Well, he's not a bad guy -- youngish, smart, serious. Ideologically he's elusive: a strong environmentalist, a fiscal scrooge, a '60s liberal who once faced down a union. He's been working hard in Iowa, but still he's trailing the Democratic clutch.

Hendrik Hertzberg thought to take another look, just for the sake of argument. In the new year's New Republic (Jan. 4 & 11), he cites studies that declare Babbitt a better governor than Michael Dukakis, and Arizona a bigger economic miracle than Massachusetts. Babbitt was no slouch in his political struggles with the Arizona legislature, either. Hertzberg finds in the earnest candidate "what looks suspiciously like a coherent world view" and "a set of proposals that tend to be almost recklessly specific," two possible reasons why so few people are paying attention to him.

As for unions, Babbitt had this to say: "We've created this culture of antagonism and misunderstanding in which workers are treated as commodities and they respond by saying, 'OK, you view us as a commodity, we'll behave like a commodity: the more work rules the better, the more clock punching the better.' And management retreats into this legalistic world of relationships in which an employee drops a wrench on the shop floor and the lawyers on both sides start writing briefs for the United States Supreme Court."

Hertzberg closes with the faint compliment that Babbitt will "leave the race standing taller than he entered it," generously omitting the more pointed comparison with the other candidates.

Back Pages

Architecture magazine, for its 75th-anniversary number (December), presents two histories. The first is "The Autobiography of a Magazine," in which Allen Freeman explains how the Journal of the American Institute of Architects (as it was first and long known), The Octagon (as it was briefly called) and Architecture (as it was named in 1983 when it incorporated Architectural Technology) has chronicled the profession. Evidently the magazine has been a mirror of the ennobling tendencies of architects no less than the embarrassing ones.

The second history, a collage of 75 years of photographs and renderings of significant buildings, complements the first. Andrea Oppenheimer Dean's accompanying sampler of commentary from the architectural press from 1913 to 1987 suggests the banality of first impressions, even learned ones, and Tony P. Wrenn's homage to fine old buildings that fell to the wrecking ball suggests the banality of second impressions, even lay ones.

Lights ... Camera ... Scalpel

We've come a long way from Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby: The physicians on "St. Elsewhere" bear some passing resemblance to doctors, if not to human beings. But have television shows in general become more accurate in depicting sick people and the diseases that afflict them?

Apparently so. Penny Ward Moser, on assignment from Hippocrates, explores the interaction between TV scriptwriters and the medical consultants who advise them. Ronald Reichman, an experienced script and medical doctor, recalls an especially tricky demand: "The glamorous, sexy leading man had to be hit by a speeding van, be knocked out, come to and be articulate, collapse again, and be rushed to the hospital and die -- and then be resuscitated." Reichman actually thought of a way to make this medically plausible, but his idea was rejected when he stipulated that a patch of the patient's head would have to be shaved.

Sometimes the script requirements are symptomatic of nonmedical problems. "I always know when some actor's involved in a contract dispute," says the quotable Reichman. "Someone from the show will call up and say, 'Uh, we need a disease where the person could either get very sick and die, or they could linger, or get better."

Moser is not just writing about fun stuff. Her story confirms that certain medical stories have clued unwitting sufferers to hidden diseases and their diagnoses, and underlines the social benefits when television treats topics like cancer and AIDS honestly and accurately.

In the same issue (January-February) of this energetic magazine, don't miss a drama of another sort -- Anthony Schmitz's intriguing tale of futuristic detection, in which DNA "fingerprints" were used to track down a murderer in an English village.

Runner's World

If Gary Hart really means to run his campaign on the cheap, he might look for inspiration to the January Changing Times for advice on "How to Become the People's Choice." Dan Moreau's once-over-lightly consumer report on running for office is tailored more to school board races than to presidential campaigns, but some of the same rules apply.

Along with nuts-and-bolts stuff on campaign costs and fund-raising strategies, there's information here on computer programs (like one called Campaign Manager PLUS), dealing with crises ("If there's room for doubt, you can say your opponent misinterpreted the situation and call the allegations mudslinging") and keys to good campaign staff work (like "keeping a distance between the candidate and disagreeable food or beverages" or, presumably, people).