The Kiss launches a new Gore look

September 19, 2000|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- Bostonians do take history seriously. We have landmarks on every memorable site from Paul Revere's house to Lexington and Concord. But somehow I don't think we'll be putting up a plaque to Al and Tipper's romance.

The candidate buzzed into town Wednesday proclaiming deep affection for the home of the bean and the cod and the college student. "I love this city," he told a crowd. "I proposed to my wife Tipper in this city."

Ever since The Kiss that launched a thousand analysts we've been told that one smackeroo made all the difference. The moment of marital bliss turned the near-stiff into the near-hunk, brought women back into the fold and opened a gender gap that reached historic proportions.

Well, a good wife is one way to improve the image of a man. An earthy woman is better than earth tones. But this time I wonder whether it's the wife or the sidekick, the romance or the partnership, the smooch or the male bonding that should get credit.

Dressed down and pumped up, Al and Joe arrived here as a team. These running mates aren't split up to cover more ground, but hooked up to be more appealing. Together Al and Joe are greater than the sum of their parts.

The conventional wisdom gives Mr. Lieberman credit for loosening up Mr. Gore. But watching the way they've created a campaign comfort zone, I wonder whether their image of a working partnership -- a male friendship, for that matter -- isn't part of what's attracting women voters.

I don't want to get too Mars and Venus, but I do think that women are attuned to more than a leader; they're attuned to his relationships. They aren't just interested in his policies but in his connections.

It's hard not to compare Al and Joe with George and Dick. I'm not just talking about Mr. Cheney's obvious lack of political charm. (Joe Lieberman didn't have to be taught to use his hands when he talks.)

The $20 million man comes across as the classic No. 2 guy in the old-style corporation, the one that the water cooler crowd calls "the yes man." The lingering image of the open mike incident, was of Mr. Cheney as flunky. The boss described a reporter as a jerk and the flunky piped up "me too."

Mr. Gore not only chose someone outside the old boy network, but together they have an easy, teasing and egalitarian style. Linking up with Mr. Lieberman allowed him to de-link Mr. Clinton -- a trick that Hillary can't accomplish.

I know it's not just women who resonate to this partnership. And I don't want to suggest that women go for style over substance. A campaign isn't a chick flick. Women voters hear their issues coming out of the Democratic mouths.

But most women seek character cues from watching relationships, not just individuals. We figure out who people are by how they are with others.

The Al and Joe appeal is also tied into a somewhat different sense of leadership styles.

The polls show Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore in a virtual tie. But not on "leadership." In the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Mr. Bush is ahead by nine points in only one quality: "strong leadership qualities." Indeed, the dominant cultural image of a "strong leader" is still the conservative male icon: an independent man, lonely at the top.

Polling questions, however, rarely go deep enough. In fact, there's another model of decision-making emerging -- decision-making in collaboration. There's no doubt that this has been a more female style. Women are more likely to make life decisions with others; it's why our phone bills run so high. But it's also increasingly the style of men and women in the new economy.

When you talk to women fleeing hierarchical corporations it's partially because a top-down business usually means men on top. But they are also seeking a more collaborative, user-friendly workplace.

Add this to a lifelong attention to relationships and you can see why many women gravitate more toward partners than a commander-in-chief.

The conventional-wisdom hawkers keep telling us that nobody votes for a vice president. I suppose that's true. But if voters "feel" better about Al, it may be because Joe looks like he's having fun and Dick looks like he's following orders.

Behind every successful man there may be more than a surprised mother-in-law -- in Mr. Lieberman's favorite line -- or a good woman. There may be a successful partnership.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for the Boston Globe. Her e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com.

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