Sunday, August 5, 2007

Since when did politics get so sexy?

Reading an LA Times article about sexuality in the '08 elections, I am feeling extremely uncomfortable. From the photo gallery featuring the infamous Al & Tipper kiss to a photo of the Clinton's that should only be in their private albums, where did the issues go?

Obviously, this isn't the kind of thing that will take the lead story on nightly news, but it's not going to go away any time before November, 2008. We've all seen the email chains comparing the ugliest pictures of democratic women against glowing photos of Ann Coulter and Laura Bush in prime lighting, so it's nothing new to note the sexuality of political women and wives.
In this long, hot (interesting choice of word) campaign season, intimations of sexuality are sprouting like wildflowers along the road to the White House. Not that the commingling of sex and politics is anything new, but for what seems to be the first time in memory, voters are being confronted with questions that don't usually break the surface: Just how sexy is a first lady allowed to be? And what constitutes an appropriate display of affection between candidates and their spouses?
Why are we thinking about how sexy the first lady should or shouldn't be? Is that relevant to the voter's choice?
With a nominating field full of older men and younger wives, experts say that a youthful, even sexy wife offers a none-too-subtle message about the vitality of the candidate.
Interestingly enough, this is really the first time I've put the line-up together. On their own, you hone in on the obvious age gap b/t Jeri and Fred Thompson, and probably don't even realize who Cindy McCain is because we never see her.
But honestly, I have only looked at the male candidates and thought of their age individually -questioning their stamina for the office, only an afterthought. President Bush obviously does as a man in his 60's, but he's a special case and the picture of health. Some of these men just look haggard. I hadn't considered their wives...
"What's going on reflects what's happening in the larger culture, a culture increasingly focused on young, attractive women and blatant sexuality, on display for all to appreciate," said Elizabeth Sherman, a political sociologist and Democrat who is married to former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma. "The candidate's wife is a strategic asset. How are you going to deploy that asset?"
Alright, back it up. Asset like Laura Bush's approval rating stays high despite her husbands. Asset like Eleanor Roosevelt was in promoting the New Deal. Asset like the projects and focus of the First Lady only increase the positive attention and reputation of the federal government's most powerful office -and add to our society as a whole. But as a sexual object asset? I hope no male candidate is thinking of "deploying his sexy-wife asset."
McCain is 18 years older than Cindy, Giuliani 11 years older than Judith. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, a Democratic hopeful, is 18 years older than his wife, Jackie. The prize for greatest age gap, however, goes to Democratic contender Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, who is 31 years older than his 29-year-old wife, Elizabeth.
Has anyone ever seen Elizabeth Kucinich? Anyone? Also, notice who isn't mentioned? The focus here, though the article tries to be independent, is on the older Republican panel of candidates: Giuliani, Thompson, McCain. (Hmmm, thinking about such conflicts among the traditional, conservative GOP base...)
But in a world obsessed with appearance and sexuality, even presidential campaigns are offering something to sate our national appetite for the superficial. To paraphrase the old Jell-O campaign, there's always room for cleavage.
Cleavage, really? Does the public notice the cleavage aspect, and more importantly, how do the voters perceive these marital unions? Candidates like O'Bama, Edwards, Huckabee, and Romney appear to have(I believe they actually do) a deep love and respect for their closer-in-age wives who also appear to have their own hidden sexuality, confidence, and supportive intelligence in the girl-next-door way. (That's not to say the other candidates don't love their wives, it's just a different image that's presented.)

At the polling place, does a voter look at the candidate as a couple- as a "we" making promises to America? I have only thought about their spouses when watching TV ads, or in the subconscious up until this point.
Politics experts often say that a candidate's spouse is a negligible factor in helping voters choose a president. But that may be changing, said Sherman. "A candidate's spouse has to be a positive enhancement. If not, at least do no harm. The way things are sliced today, 1% here, 2% there can make a big difference. One false move can destroy your whole campaign."
I would hope the candidates' wives would desire not to be 1 or 2% if it's based on their sexuality and the vitality they help their man to possess. But who am I to judge? Maybe Republicans don't care about age difference in spouses or age in their presidential candidates. My grandparents are 10 years apart, and marriages within my family range from 1 month to 18 years difference to younger women. But what about those with multiple past marriages, new younger wives, and these hot, sexual first lady candidates? Does the GOP scoff at men who leave their wives for younger women? I bet some women do, as the ultimate fear come to life on the pedestal of our nation's leader - being left in older age for young chickies.

But female issues aside, I prefer the picture of a solid supportive First Lady in sharp women like Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Kennedy - oozing class -women who I'm sure influence(d) their husbands in the bedroom too. But more in the "put down your book, let me tell you what I think about all this" kind of way. I prefer my first ladies in a nice suit or ballgown for a state dinner, not stilettos and low-cut lingerie-showing attire for the latest Harper's Bazaar interview. I guess I'm just old school.

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