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Candidates kiss up to the people

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

One of the great revelations of the past week -- other than Mexico City being a hotbed of Steelers fans -- is that no law apparently exists to stop middle-aged people from dancing and kissing in public, especially those with high political ambitions.

At the very least, warning labels should be put on political conventions if women like Tipper Gore are going to be boogieing around stages and lingering over kisses from their husbands, which, in Al Gore's case, is an act perilously close to necrophilia.

Do the Gores have no concern for our impressionable youth? If kids see that mature adults can be amorous, they will be totally put off from ever marrying -- for the simple reason that, by teen definition, anything the oldies do is totally passe and unacceptable.

Of course, the shameless display of affection at the recent Democratic National Convention is meant to "humanize" the candidate -- the application of electrodes, in the manner of Frankenstein's monster, having apparently failed.

But why do we need our presidents to be Mr. Personality anyway? This is not an election to pick our national best friend.

Speaking personally, I have always managed to get by quite nicely without an attractive personality, and I don't see why I have to vote for some phony charmer. Why does a president need charm? So he can speak to Yasser Arafat? Al Gore can be as stiff as he likes; that way I can relate to him.

Competency, good intentions, an enlightened stand on the issues, a record of public service -- are these not more important criteria for a president?

Well, no. As it turns out, we the people have become suckers for the chronically hokey. Both parties are guilty of this. Indeed, the modern trend toward overt sentimentality began with Ronald Reagan, who was forever patriotically misty-eyed. Flags were cut onions to him.

So what we have now is an election which will turn on which candidate can out-schmaltz the other. The way things are going, the old political cry of "a chicken in every pot" will soon be replaced by "an adorable puppy in every basket."

Actually, the rallying cry of the Democrats this year is "working families," which political consultants no doubt have advised is an effective antidote to the GOP's favorite, "family values."

In my view, it is no improvement. As a member of a working family myself, I suspect I am being slyly invited to look down my nose at all those nonworking families -- you know, the idle country club families who play golf continually and live off their investments.

But that is the sort of life to which we all hope to aspire. Real families know that "working" is not what it is cracked up to be. It is actually a darn nuisance. Why, we might even be able to talk to our children if we weren't off working all the time.

Oh, yes, families can sing "Hi, ho, hi, ho, it's off to work we go" -- as the Henry family does in the mornings to whip up enthusiasm -- but it grows old quickly.

Why can't the Democrats just promise to redistribute wealth like they used to, with the added bonus of redistributing idleness so that working families can stop wasting their precious time on work? Now that would be something to attract the voters.

But, not to worry, Al Gore and George W. Bush are both really human -- honest! As Tipper said last week of her man, "I also want you to know that as a husband, father and grandfather, Al has always been there for our family, and he will always be there for your family."

This is good news. As it happens, my family always needs a little help pruning the hedges, and I am certainly going to give him a call.

Anyway, how about Tipper's photo album tribute to her husband? You know, I have the sneaking suspicion that Mrs. Lincoln never put on a magic lantern show to animate her awkward-looking husband, and if she did, it didn't feature a picture of them in bathing suits. But the Lincolns, being hopelessly old-fashioned, had what used to be called dignity, which would make Honest Abe unelectable had he lived in our time.

What can we do as we drown in a sea of political hokum? We can only pass out the antacids and sing the Steelers' new fight song, "South of the Border Down Farther Than Peters Township Way."

Reg Henry's e-mail address is rhenry@post-gazette.com.

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