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Jewish World Review August 7, 2000/6 Menachem-Av, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Brains, beauty and beastly politics -- THE LADY CATS of the media hardly need Hillary Clinton to keep their claws sharp.

No sooner had Laura Bush stepped down from the podium at the Republican National Convention than one political reporter, who demurely declined to speak for the record, told the Philadelphia Daily News for its special section on first ladies: "She comes across as a Stepford Wife.''

Ann Coulter, a conservative partisan to the max, is eager to go on record about Al Gore's lady: "Tipper looks like some gaudy white trash,'' she said. "For one thing, she's married to Al.''

This is about par for the course for size-ups of first ladies across the generations. In fact, it's mild when compared to the epithets thrown at some, such as the wives of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. A candidate's wife is always vulnerable to her husband's political opponents.

What's different today, however, is that the women's vote has taken on increasing importance. You hear less about "feminism'' (which is equated with liberalism and the left) than about "gender gap'' politics. George W. Bush is popular with the women of Texas -- he won 65 percent of their vote in his re-election as governor -- and his wise men think he can win a majority of the women's vote in November. (He's got a big lead already with men.) Despite his moral transgressions, a majority of women supported Bill Clinton over George Bush the elder in 1992 and over Bob Dole in 1996. But recent polls show George W. and Al divvying up women about evenly.

The women speaking up for George W. in Philadelphia have been an impressive lot. They're not only substantive, but beautiful (though no one is supposed to notice). They've changed the face of the Republican Party, a man might say.

Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington, who was one of three co-chairs at the convention, said George W. has expanded appeal for women. 'He could win big with women,'' she said, "because of his approach to tough-minded reform in education, Social Security, and inheritance taxes.'' Elizabeth Dole, who dropped out of the presidential race early in the primary season, was rewarded for her prompt endorsement of George W. with a prominent speaking role at Philadelphia, where she emphasized his "strength through integrity.'' She might even get a spot in a Bush cabinet.

Condoleeza Rice is a black woman who advises the candidate on national security, but she's not an "affirmative action'' adviser. Her personal story offers a fascinating twist of historical perception on race relations. She says she's a Republican because the first Republican she knew and most admires is her father: "He joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did.'' As in Bill Clinton's Arkansas and the rest of the South, Alabama's Democrats held all-white primaries long after the Republicans did away with them.

Condoleeza Rice's story reflects how dramatically different George W.'s emphasis on unity contrasts with the divisive approach to race relations in the Democratic Party. George W., she says, "realizes that we are a nation that has been forged not from common blood but from common purpose.'' Her theme: Democracy in America is a work in progress.

These are not "women's issues'' women. Nor are these women necessarily prominent because they are women. They bring the toughness of their expertise to the party. Laura Bush told the convention that she looks forward to a woman as president. The first woman will, like Margaret Thatcher in Britain, make it to the top with intellectual rigor and political acumen as a solid candidate, and not as a woman candidate. That's not the standard Walter Mondale used in choosing Geraldine Ferarro in 1984. Eleanor Clift and Tom Brazaitis, in their book, "Madame President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling,'' argue that ambitious women are subject to a double standard, that everything they do is measured against sex-specific criteria. Hence, a combative woman is "unfeminine,'' while a combative man is "tough.'' True enough, but it's a lot less true today. That's one of the Philadelphia stories.

John F. Kennedy said a woman president would require the wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt, the wit of Clare Boothe Luce and the compassion of Queen Victoria. How about the national security acumen of Condoleeza Rice, the political smarts of Elizabeth Dole, and intellectual grasp of social and economic issues of Jennifer Dunn?

We've come a long way, baby.


08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
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