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Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2000/ 24 Kislev 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Kiss our coarse era goodbye --
IT WAS such a small thing, inconspicuous really, most people probably didn't even notice it. No one reported it; no media dissected it; no pundits applauded or probed it for public content.

I'm talking about the kiss. Or rather the un-kiss of president-elect George W. Bush. He was approaching the lectern to give his acceptance address when he paused to give wife Laura a quick embrace and an affectionate peck on the cheek.

No deep, drenching, soulful "God-I-love-ya-woman-gotta-have-ya" mouth-masher. Just a brush, the sort of thing grown-ups normally do in public when the kiss is a greeting of understood affection rather than an announcement of virility. Call me a WASP, but I loved it.

George's un-kiss was the symbol I've been waiting for. It spoke volumes about the character and class of the rising first couple, suggestive of restraint and hinting that self-control is a virtue, not a signal that it's time to refill the Viagra.

After eight years of unrelenting promiscuity and national voyeurism, followed by a Democratic campaign that attempted to portray Al Gore as one virile (but monogamous) guy, I'm desperate for waist-up leadership. Watching Gore bruise-kiss Tipper at the Democratic National Convention made me feel like I was back in the balcony of the Ritz Theater taking bets on which make-out couple would break for air.

I was 12 then. As an adult, I don't want to watch fellow adults, especially public officials, smooch. I don't care what kind of underwear Bush and vice president-elect Dick Cheney wear. I'm fundamentally not interested in whether they have a rich sex life, within or outside their marriages.

I don't want to see them in airbrushed tight jeans on the cover of magazines (see Gore on the cover of Rolling Stone), or seated spread-eagled on a chair smiling smugly as if to say, "Lewinsky-yourself." (Clinton on the cover of Esquire)

Just as children don't want to think about their parents in flagrante delicto, I'd rather not worry whether the most powerful man on the planet is sexually satisfied. Lest you think me partisan, I'm also not opposed to Bob Dole gathering up his little erectile set and going home.

The pornofication of American politics has run its course. We're breathless already, done scoring, could we maybe just read a book?

To review how and when we became absorbed with public officialdom's most private parts is to understand and mourn the loss of national dignity that can be traced through nearly every institution and behavior. We are a relaxed nation bereft of self-control -- overweight, underdressed, obscene and profane. We play music too loud, say the f-word in shopping malls, flip the bird to passersby who fail to merge to our satisfaction.

Meanwhile, when what was once considered private becomes public, when anything can be said, when a president's sexuality is approved for public perusal, civil society begins to lose its sheen. It's difficult to command respect when your public image is always unzipped. It's impossible to expect polite behavior from people who've never witnessed it.

While I never agreed with our microscopic inspection of Clinton's sex life, it was his behavior that invited it. If you're the kind of president whose sex life is central to your character, you might expect some scrutiny along those lines.

Which is why I was relieved to note Bush's discreet peck. It wasn't just a kiss on the cheek, it was a kiss goodbye to coarser times and the promise of a little trickle-down dignity.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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