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Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2000/ 3 Tishrei, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face -- THIS IS THE YEAR we're getting it right in the kisser. Politicians have always given mere lip service to the tough issues, but never have the two presidential candidates put so much stock in the proper pucker.

The kisses just keep on coming.

When George W. went through a hospital nursery the other day, smiling at the squalling newborns, he winked at the cameras and quipped, "So many babies to kiss.'' When he arrived on the set with Oprah Winfrey, he strode manfully onstage to plant a surprise peck resolutely on her cheek. Asked a little later to name the greatest gift he had to bestow, he replied: "A kiss for my wife.''

He had clearly upstaged the absent Al. When Al visited Oprah and omitted the customary kiss, with not even an air kiss for the queen of touchy-feely, Oprah asked: "What, no kiss?'' Perhaps Al, who said he had been so overcome with an "overwhelming surge of emotion'' at the Democratic convention that he had just had to plant that big one on Tipper, figured that was enough already.

We've clearly entered a new stage of sexual politics. A man has to lunge for the women's vote with body language. Feminism promised us that women could be as tough as men, but now the candidates, trying to prove they're as soft as women, affect feminine sensibilities to appeal to women. You can't argue with what works: Since his soft and cuddly appearance with Oprah, George W. has cut so deeply into Al's appeal to women that he has surged back to a lead in most of the public-opinion polls.

We've come a long way from the day poor Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro didn't know whether to hold hands or wrap them around each other's waists. They felt awkward with each other and it showed. Fashions in body language, like fashions in hem lengths, change.

Can anyone imagine George Washington passionately kissing Martha? Harry Truman was a "man's man'' who wrote wonderful love letters to Bess, but both were careful not to show passion in public. That would have shocked both men and women of their more modest time, and Harry and Bess most of all.

Once upon a time I wrote a monthly column for Vogue magazine called "Mental Health,'' cataloging the latest dispatches from the front in the war between the sexes, really deep psychological stuff for women to read under the hair dryer. I discovered a fascinating academic study explaining why the Latin lover was such a delicious mystery to American women.

The Latin male, according to certain cultural experts, nurtured a different sense of space than the American male and he found it only natural to get close to a woman's face, even in conversation. American women found that romantic and sexually charged. My Vogue editors thought the item too explicit (read too exciting) to run. They probably wouldn't run it today because it wouldn't be explicit and exciting enough.

The loosening of sexual images and public displays of affection subtly affect how we interpret a candidate's behavior. We expect more intimate revelations about their personal lives, so we allow them more physical contact. Bill Clinton is a big hugger of both men and women, and his most famous hug was of Monica Lewinsky on the rope line. We watched it over and over again until the television networks all but wore out the videotape. Such candidate-groupie behavior seemed innocent enough and would have remained so if we hadn't subsequently learned that the rope-line hug was only what met the public eye.

Women, as we all know, have been gloriously liberated, but the old sexual images still work best in the clinch. Rick Lazio was only treating Hillary as an equal in their first debate, but her handlers cleverly exploited a perception of Rick as "unchivalrous.'' Attila the hen (CQ) became Hillary the hurt.

The public demands softer images -- Al telling those heartbreaking whoppers about his family, George W. bringing a tear to his eye when he talks of the birth of his twin daughters -- because that's what works best on television. Spontaneity takes practice, and a candidate has to work at looking sincere in good visuals. Ed Muskie was bounced out of the presidential race in 1972 when the television cameras caught a tear on his cheek as he denounced an attack on his wife. He tried to say it was a snowflake, but we knew better. He was a man ahead of his times.

"Television,'' says Ted Koppel, who should know better than almost anyone else, "is an illusionary medium.'' Nevertheless, and like it or not, it is the intellectual and emotional illusion that our culture has become. Nobody can kiss that away.


09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate