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Jewish World Review June 5, 2000/2 Sivan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Hillary and Al --
playing against type -- NAME RECOGNITION ain't what it used to be. In a world of instant communication, revelation and speculation, the gilt of recognition quickly tarnishes. The glitter doesn't last.

The two candidates with the best name recognition, veterans who have been in the spotlight for a decade or more, are sinking in the polls. Something beneath the surface of their public persona bothers voters.

Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are different in many ways, but they share a common trait. They change their images to fit what they think the moment expects of them. They learned that technique from Bill, but without his easy adaptability and his con man's ability to let nothing rattle him.

First, the first lady. She's been unable to get above 46 percent in the polls in New York. That was true when she was running against Rudolph Giuiliani and it was true two weeks later after the mayor dropped out and Rep. Rick Lazio jumped in.

The carpetbagger issue drags on Hillary's campaign, but it's not seminal so much as symptomatic. Hillary pretends to be who she isn't. When she first became first lady the reporters had great fun with her make-overs, her changing hairstyles, her outfits of the day. Most women (if not men) chalked that up to a problem of style. But it's actually a problem of substance. Donning a New York Yankees cap was like another hairdo, a reach for an image that didn't fit.

When Rick Lazio entered the race, her campaign tried to demonize him as a reincarnation of Newt Gingrich. That description was quickly exposed as silly more than nasty. New Yorkers aren't provincials. Without an opponent with Rudy's negatives, Hillary's gone into yet another make-over, what the New York Observer calls "The Blanding of Mrs. C: Team Hillary Prepares for Fall Inoffensive.''

The woman who had been a lightning rod turned into a firefly. The dominant adjective her handlers aim for is nice: humility over chutzpah, tenderness over toughness, sensitivity over severity. You might say they want to eviscerate Evita.

Al Gore, on the other hand, has taken his transformation in the other direction. The straight-arrow son, father, and senator changed as vice president. He earned a reputation for being ruthless, a pol who would do anything to win. A large majority of men, according to the polls, don't trust him. Now George W. is taking his women. All this is subject to change, of course, but the vice president has squandered the quality that contrasted him to Bill Clinton. We thought him to be instinctively honorable: What you saw was who he was.

That was before he went to the Buddhist temple for "community outreach.'' Like Hillary, he subjected himself to a fashion change. Clothes do not make the man, but they can sure unmake him. Better to look stiff in a suit and tie than phony in tight jeans and boots. Soon he sounded out of tune in his earth tones.

Both Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are very smart. They've been on the political scene in one way or another for a long time. But unlike their mentor Bill, they don't look like they enjoy the calculated life. Politics is what they must endure to get power.

The president, by comparison, is a natural dissimulator -- a natural politician, a natural womanizer, a natural liar, and a natural fun-lover. He's inside his skin like a method actor, no matter what the script. Hillary and Al are stuck with delivering flat lines in a script that doesn't play to their strengths. They sound synthetic, unable to fake sincerity.

If we could reduce to one word what Americans are looking for in this election season, it would be authenticity, the yearning that what we see is the Real McCoy.

It's a long, long way to November, but it's not too soon for Al and Hillary to take note of Oscar Wilde's witty perception of human kind that exquisitely captures the essence of the pol: "It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper nature is soon found out.''


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