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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2000/ 25 Elul, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Oprahfication of presidential
political: It's all about feelings --
IT HAS BEEN SAID that the Democratic Party is the feminine party and the Republican Party, the masculine. In other words, Dems are more attuned to feelings, and Reps more to the mind, if not precisely the intellect.

In such light, women apparently are deemed to respond to their feelings more than their minds -- an insult we'll parse another day -- and men more to their implicitly superior intellects.

Extending the implication, it is further understood that if candidates want the women's vote, they had better temper those tricky issues with some genuine feelings. And what better venue to display one's emotional content than before the nation's premier Mother Confessor, the Queen of Feelings -- Oprah!

Both George W. Bush and Al Gore appeared on Oprah Winfrey's daytime televised talk show in the past few days, completing the foretold Oprahfication of America. Already the goddess of the couchless confession had segued into seer of American letters. Her "Oprah Book Club Selection" imprimatur, splashed across a book cover, nearly ensures a bestseller, such that wannabe authors now report genuflecting before homemade Oprah shrines erected next to home computers.

Branching out the past couple of weeks, Oprah is now political mentor to the millions of mostly female viewers who want to know whom to trust for president. It's not about issues, all that crazy head stuff. It's about feelings. Oprah says so on her Web site:

"To me there's this wall that exists between the people and the authentic part of the candidate . . . My goal is to try to get to know the men behind the wall."

Oprah said she hoped her shows would help viewers answer some of the bigger questions: "Whom do you trust? Who feels right to you? Whom do you like?"

In order to get to the bottom of these issues, Oprah posed questions, the dominant effect of which was to make one nostalgic for Walter Cronkite. Even Barbara Walters' famous line of questioning -- "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" -- is intellectually riveting compared with Oprah's "What's your favorite cereal?"

That question went to Gore (Wheaties), while Bush's boots were held to the fire over his favorite sandwich -- peanut butter and jelly. On white bread. Both men love their wives and God. Bush loves tacos, while Gore loves Chinese food. Gore loves the Beatles, and Bush loves the song, "Wake Up Little Susie."

I hate both of these guys. Would it be too much to ask for a little Chopin and Pumpernickel?

At least we can assume that they're both honest. Surely political posturing would produce more creative responses.

Oprah, too, might have been more creative -- or at least discreet -- with her own physical posturing, which left little to guesswork. If body language were translated into words, Oprah's would look something like this:

"Al, you da' man! (Actually, I think she did say that). And, "Dubya, you are so full of Texas wafers, it'll be another presidential election before I can erase this pucker of disbelief off my face."

Which was, of course, the point. Not to remove "the wall between people and authenticity" but to endorse Gore before the audience that seems to count most in this horse race -- women in the middle who trust their feelings and, of course, Oprah.

When the outcome of a presidential contest boils down to the feelings of daytime television viewers, we might all begin to feel a little worried and wistful of walls.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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