A political turn on the dance floor

April 04, 1999|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BOSTON -- The woman is sitting at the beauty parlor scanning the pages of Esquire when he pops up. Bob Dole, World War II veteran, presidential candidate, Senate leader and svelte spokesman on impotence -- no, Erectile Dysfunction -- is staring out at her. Again.

Surrounding his photo is the word "Courage." Beside him is the admonition that other men go see their doctor. In the lower right hand corner is a small logo for Pfizer, maker of Viagra.

This woman is a certified believer in male openness and sharing and touching and feeling.

She prefers Bob Dole to the other ads of an older couple twirling on the dance floor as if you could swallow Viagra and turn into Fred Astaire.

So she is about to declare "good for him" clear across the sound of hair dryers when suddenly out of nowhere her Alter Ego hisses into her ear: "Good Lord, he's got to stop this before his wife announces for president!"

Question of sex

The woman swirls around in the chair and prissily asks her Alter Ego: "What on earth do you mean?"

"Oh come on," Alter answers. "Here we have the first woman with an actual chance to become president and all we'll be able to think of is her sex life. If he doesn't quit this, she'll be a sex object!"

"A sex object?" the woman blurts out.

"You know what I mean. They'll look at her and think Viagra. She'll be giving a speech late one night and somebody will wonder if he's back at the hotel wasting a $10 pill."

The woman huffs: "You have a dirty mind!"

"I have a dirty mind?" demurs her Alter Ego. "Where have you been the last year? Do you actually think that the American people still want to know about the sex life of a couple who might inhabit the White House?"

The Woman and her Alter Ego testily debate sexual politics for another minute or two.

Who would have guessed that the man from Kansas, a bit of a dour puss, would have violated the male code of silence and talked about E.D.? Good for him.

Who would have guessed that the woman from North Carolina, a bit of a control freak, would have agreed to make their private life so public. What is she thinking of?

Gradually, it occurs to both Woman and Alter Ego, as the hair on their head(s) is being snipped, that the political power couple must have a method in this libido madness. These two pols would never have done Pfizer without a focus group.

After all, how many times had Bob promised to be supportive? How How carefully did they keep him from her campaign video? How dutifully did he promise to be First Gentleman?

Just this week, Mr. Dole told a reporter, "It's been a one-way street until now. Mostly the men get support from the women. But the men should support the women."

Finally the woman turns to her Alter Ego and snaps, "Maybe this isn't a pitch for Viagra. Maybe this is a pitch for role reversal. Maybe this is Bob Dole preparing for the part of First Gentleman."

"Oh puleeze," says Alter Ego.

"No really. Long before Betty Ford became a clinic, she spoke up for addiction. Nancy Reagan became a poster woman for breast cancer. Barbara Bush did Graves' disease. First Lady-nominee, Kitty Dukakis, wrote a book announcing her mood and alcohol problems.

"And how many people prefer Hillary as a survivor of adultery rather than as a health care guru? We like spouses with flaws and problems."

"Yeah," sneers Alter Ego, "but Hillary Clinton suffered in silence."

"Never mind," the woman insists. "These days the president does policy. The First Lady does emotions. He's the executive. She's the healer. Elizabeth's running for president; Bob has to run for healer."

Policy, healing

She goes on: "Remember when they ran the first of these ads? What did Elizabeth say? `It's a great drug.' That's policy. Remember what he said? `My view is that it's up to the men now, just as the women took charge of their lives with the leadership of Mrs. Ford and others.' That's healing."

Slowly, as they get up from the chair there is a meeting of the minds between the woman and her Alter Ego.

The first campaign for First Gentleman has begun and Elizabeth and Bob want to be that couple dancing on the White House ballroom floor under a Pfizer logo.

"OK, OK," concedes her Alter Ego grumpily. "But couldn't he just have had cataracts?"

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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