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Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 1999/ 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Lose one Dole, lose two -- IN THE DAYS of Damon Runyon and other grown-ups, when you could talk about guys and dolls as guys and dolls, someone would have described Elizabeth Dole as "a classy dame.''

She's good looking and dresses to show it. She wears high heels, never clunky running shoes.

She's aggressive but never loses her feminine charm. Her soft southern accent helps.

She's appealing to women for her courage to get out in front with issues and to men who never found her shrill. She struck the right style if not the right substance.

But she's not ready to be the first woman president. Close, but no cigar. It's not the money. She doesn't have the clarity of vision to speak unequivocally about what she believes. She has never before run for elective office, and two cabinet offices don't count. "Wife of'' presidential candidate doesn't either. (Hillary take note).

She was never the Stepford wife her critics tried to make her out to be, but she failed to follow through on issues like gun control and rebuilding the military. She could have linked those two ideas in a powerful theme showing her independence of mind, but she didn't.

Many women decried her withdrawal from the campaign as the result of the prejudice that still confronts women candidates. That's not quite true. She actually tapped fresh resources in galvanizing women contributors and volunteers. More than half of her big donors were women.

To her credit, she didn't cry sexism. Successful women (and men) have to learn how to run against sexual stereotypes. George W. is boyishly macho and he runs with it, not from it. Elizabeth Dole is feminine in her fashion without compromising her credibility. It's time to stop demanding that a woman who runs for president has to sound like Margaret Thatcher, dominate like Indira Gandhi and look like Golda Meir.

To her credit, sexual politics was peripheral rather than central to Elizabeth Dole's campaign. No one debated what wonders she would bring to the office because she was not a man.

She was hurt rather than helped by being half of a "Power Couple.'' Bob Dole was not an asset. She was not an avenger for her husband as George W. is an avenger for his father. A lot of people say they regret not voting for the father but nobody regrets not voting for the husband. That wasn't her fault but she was stuck with it. The sooner we can get away from exploiting the spouse, the better.

John McCain and his wife Cindy were interviewed side by side on ABC's "This Week'' and both suffered. This was not Bill and Hillary on "60 Minutes,'' where a wife was called on to save her husband. Nevertheless, it was difficult not to feel sorry for Mrs. McCain to be so patronized by the interviewers.

She wouldn't disagree with her husband about anything. Most "spouses of'' can't either, unless they're "exploring'' a run for themselves, for say, a Senate seat from New York.

The lingering sexist issue in campaigns is how we allow these "spouses of'' to be exploited. It has mostly fallen on the shoulders of women, but we shouldn't expect a spouse of either sex to be interviewed over what he/she thinks about issues of the candidate. It's always demeaning and may explain why Bob Dole, perhaps unwittingly and certainly ungallantly, talked out loud about sending money to Sen. McCain's campaign.

When Sam Donaldson asked Cindy McCain how she responds when her husband is accused of being a hypocrite for taking money while campaigning for campaign reform, she replied, "I don't.'' What else could she say? Did Sam, Cokie or George expect her to agree?

"Being the wife of someone like this,'' she says, "is often difficult for me because I can't always answer those questions and I can't always say what I really think with regards to how I feel.'' So what's the point of the interview?

Conventional wisdom says Elizabeth Dole has a shot at George W.'s veep if Al Gore (or Bill Bradley) takes Dianne Feinstein or another woman to be his lawful wedded running mate. Maybe, maybe not. Elizabeth Dole would have been a stronger candidate if she had expanded on her foreign policy insights. But it's difficult to believe that George W. wants two Doles in his inner circle. We've learned how expensive it can be when you buy one, and get one free.


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