Jewish World Review July 12, 2004/ 23 Tamuz, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Nothing says lovin' like a little huggin' | Watching the intimate moments of courtship of others embarrasses most of us, or at least some of us. But the public displays of affection that shocked our grandparents are regarded in our time as fit for Sunday school.

Holding hands is no longer enough. The two Democratic candidates can't wait to get on stage for sessions of arm-gripping, face-fondling, knee-rubbing, neck-nuzzling, thigh-slapping and bear-hugging. This is not the political love that dare not speak its name from a closet, but the contrived warmth, born of the focus group, that shouts from the rooftop. And why not? We've become the therapeutic nation of huggers and fondlers.

The two Johns lock eyes frequently in deep contact and stop barely short of demonstrating what great kissers they may be. Monsieur Kerry might yet give us a demonstration of French kissing but, if he does, Mr. Edwards, a good ol' Carolina boy after all, will be entitled to slap his face. (Secret Service bodyguards, take note.)

Over the past two days, since Monsieur Kerry introduced his running mate at his wife's estate near Pittsburgh, "candidate handling," in the description of the Drudge Report, "has become the top buzz on the trail."

"I've been covering Washington and politics for 30 years [said one wire-service photographer]. I can say I've never seen this much touching between two men, publicly." Indeed, editors determined to preserve the appearance of a little presidential dignity and campaign decorum on "the trail" are frustrated in their search for photographs suitable for a respectable mainstream newspaper. The photographers, keen competitors for the most startling shot of the day, naturally love it. swift and fatal case of lead poisoning.

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The candidates are giving the term "Johns," heretofore familiar only in certain neighborhoods illuminated by the glow of dim red lights, an entirely new meaning. These buff and manly Johns are only following instructions to demonstrate warmth — cuddly warmth though it may be — to contrast with the chilly Republican images projected by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who keep their legs crossed and their hands to themselves at all times. No one imagines George W. inspecting Dick Cheney's cheek for razor burn in anticipation of a friendly kiss to greet the day. The president, after all, is the scion of generations of reserved and genteel WASP breeding, and the veep is a man from Wyoming, where the wrong kind of familiarity can invite a

Besides, says a Kerry spokesperson, "I think we're just seeing genuine affection between them." But he adds nervously, "I hope we do not see them wearing matching outfits when they ride bikes together this weekend." No one suggests that Monsieur Kerry, who sent the Viet Cong fleeing into wild retreat into Cambodia and Laos after serving just four months in Vietnam, is any less a man than John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. John Edwards' smile makes even a feminist's heart throb with erotic speculation. The carefully calculated "candidate handling" is merely a pose to reassure voters that Monsieur Kerry does, too, have a pulse. All that's expected of John Edwards is that he learn to hug (but not kiss) in French. The rest of us will just have to grin and bear it, but from a distance. November is only five months away.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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