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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2000/ 17 Tishrei, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

'Ladies night' at the second debate -- IF AL AND George W. are aiming their considerable charms, if not their sharpest barbs, at the ladies as the experts say they have to do, the Texas "playboy'' is finally getting it right.

George W. is not a playboy at all, of course, but that's the media perception, so as wrong as it is -- it's the only perception we've got. He's running with it, and threatening to run away with it.

Their debate the other night is a case in point. There was so much smilin' and huggin' goin' on you might have thought they were warming up for another session with Oprah. Gone were George W.'s smirks and Al's sighs, and what we were treated to was enough Little Lord Fauntleroy behavior to make a nanny gag.

This kind of behavior by a candidate, any candidate, is outrageous condescension to "the ladies,'' but it's what "the ladies'' have asked for. We're so determined to take politics out of politics, to take debate out of debate, to take controversy out of controversy, that we can't blame the politicians now for taking us at our word.

Once upon a time a presidential debate, in fact the entire presidential campaign, was regarded as the necessary trial by ordeal. Everyone figured that if a candidate couldn't stand up to a little rough-housing and hazing by the other guy, maybe he wouldn't be tough enough to stand up to the tough guys from other less-inhibited and less-mannerly places that he would have to deal with once ensconced behind that big desk in the Oval Office.

For most of their debate both Al and George W. couldn't be themselves. In the description of Dick Morris, the campaign guru who more or less invented Bill Clinton in those long-ago Little Rock days, Al was "bound and gagged and under the table.'' A man (if not a lady) might have likened the candidates to a couple of cautious boxers retreating into clinches, too wary of each other to try to land a punishing blow. My father, who promoted heavyweight championship matches a long time ago, would have scoffed that "you don't attract customers with loving clinches, because the customers come to see a fight, and the more knockdowns the better.'' A little blood on the floor of the ring never frightened away anybody.

But boxing metaphors are out, and pundits search for metaphors from the no-contact sports. (Soccer comes to mind.) We've decided that we have to clean up our presidential campaigns, sanitize the speech of the candidates and even fumigate the punditry. Otherwise, we might offend "the ladies,'' for whom the current euphemism is "independent voters.'' Could this really be what Susan B. Anthony had in mind?

It's clearly what George W. is smart enough to have in mind, and why not? When the campaign is cleansed of issues and sharp elbows, that leaves humor, self-deprecation and the easy-going likability that are his most attractive attributes to win the day. Al and his handlers have pushed the canard that George W. is not exactly bright, a 40-watt bulb eager to fit into a high- wattage socket, but this carries considerable risks with it.

Affable, likable George, merely by displaying his good intentions and a cool manner, bested Al on Democratic issues -- holding his own on health care, disarming him on guns and one-upping him on education by calling it "the ultimate civil right.'' Al was even reduced to saying, three times, that he isn't trying to take away the guns of "hunters and sportsmen.''

If George W. is the cool smoothie that every girl covets but is a little wary of taking him home to show ol' Dad, all the smoothie has to do is show that he's bright enough. Charm, personality and basic decency will always carry the day, and if he shows a little fiber and toughness as well he's on his way to getting both the girl and the farm.

On the other hand, the bright bully doesn't wear well, because if the other guy turns out to be bright enough, brash aggressiveness -- a nice euphemism for overbearing rudeness -- is all he's got. If he changes his behavior as easily as he changes his earth tones, as Al tried to do the other night, and nice doesn't work, he'll pay a high price if he goes back to bullying. That's because that's what everyone, and most of all "the ladies,'' expect the overbearing bully to do.


10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
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