When sparks fly between these two, candidates better duck

ALICE STEINBACH

August 06, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

To the list of love affairs that had tragic endings -- Romeo and Juliet, Tristram and Isolde, Cathy and Heathcliff, Deborah Norville and the "Today Show," Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing -- you may now add the names of Mick and Jerry.

I refer, of course, to those two crazy, fun kids: Mick "I can't get no satisfaction" Jagger and Jerry "I just wanna be your No. 1 girl" Hall.

The word on the street is that Mick and Jerry are Splitsville. Of course, some people say that while this development is tres sad, it does not strike them as tres tragic. Or even tragic without the tres.

But I say it is.

Consider, if you will, the following: Mick and Jerry live together for almost 14 years. Have three children together. Things seem to be going along tres OK. Then they get married. And boom, just like that, it's over! To recap: 14 years together as an unmarried couple; 18 months as bride and goon . . . I mean, groom -- then bing, bang, bing, the honeymoon is over and it's time to divide the silverware, china and platinum albums.

That's not tragic?

But look: It's tough for show biz celebrities who fall in love. Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy can tell you all about that.

The only couples for whom it might be even tougher are: couples on opposite sides of the political fence.

Couples like those latest star-crossed lovers, Mary Matalin and James Carville. She is political director of George Bush's presidential campaign; he is Bill Clinton's chief strategist in the presidential race.

He's been called the "hottest political consultant in America" and the Democratic Party's Lee Atwater.

She was a protege of the late Lee Atwater and is being called the "new Lee Atwater of the Republican Party."

And while it seems fair to say this is a relationship that might be compared to Susan Faludi's falling in love with Sigmund Freud, when it comes to the romance department Mary Matalin and James Carville have been a big-ticket item for the last two years.

But unlike the old-fashioned Jerry-and-Mick type of romantic relationship -- "I love you all through my being," writes Jerry to Mick -- what we have here in Mary and Jim may be the prototype of the Postmodern Lovers.

He calls her "Bloody Mary."

She calls him the "Ax-Murdering Consultant from Hell."

Not since Tracy and Hepburn went 10 rounds in movies such as "Adam's Rib" and "Pat and Mike" has there been a more contentious romance.

But that was make-believe; this is real. Or as real as politics get, anyway. And it seems to be turning a bit ugly.

Earlier this week the Matalin-Carville personal connection became the sub-text to a sharp exchange between the Bush camp and the Clinton camp. The gunslingers firing the shots, it turns out, were none other than Mary and James.

Responding in part to Carville's accusation that Republicans had started at the "belly button" of negative campaigning, Matalin fired back in a press release: "If we're at your belly button, it feels like Mount Everest compared to your lower-than-a-snake's-belly campaign."

By the way, did I mention this is the woman who says in the current issue of Vogue that "Sometimes it's hard to detach my James from the guy whose face I'd like to rip off."

Her press release, which was titled "Sniveling Hypocritical Democrats: Stand up and be counted" also alluded to Clinton's "bimbo eruptions." The White House sanctimoniously condemned it as "sleaze" and the Clinton camp initially demanded she be dismissed.

Eventually, Matalin grudgingly apologized, saying she regretted if "the tone of my statement left the wrong impression."

Carville's reaction? "The professional side of me is not very upset at all at what's happened but the personal side of me is," he said.

Can this romance survive? She says in Vogue that "if James ever proposes to me, I will accept." In an unrelated Vogue article he is described by female reporters as "the biggest flirt on the campaign."

And while you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, think about this: Is there a double standard here? There are signs that some Republicans are questioning Matalin's ability to serve the campaign because of her relationship with Carville. There are no signs of anyone's questioning Carville's ability on the same score.

Or to quote from the Vogue article: ". . . Matalin, a woman who has put almost everything in her life on hold in order to win one election after the next, is now in danger of becoming best known simply for sleeping with the enemy."

Which means, I guess, that in more ways than one, politics is still a man's world.

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