The understudy

What does it mean for women when a female candidate for vice president of the United States spends $150,000 on clothes and sundries over a two-month period to stump for herself and John McCain?

What does it mean for women when this candidate spends $32,800 on hair and makeup over a two-week period?

What does it mean for women when this candidate’s makeup artist is the highest paid staff member on the McCain campaign?

I don’t remember reading any headline articles about Hillary Clinton’s clothing, makeup and hair allowance, and yet she is always attractive, well dressed, and well groomed.

What does it mean for women to have a candidate who may be a heartbeat away from the presidency and doesn’t understand her responsibilities as vice president?

What does it mean for women that this candidate, on multiple levels, is making a joke out of being a female contender for the role of presidential understudy?

I believe it means that Senator McCain is guilty of an enormous lapse in judgment in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate in an effort to ‘energize’ a deflated campaign.

I also believe it means that the women of America will not be seduced into voting for a presidential candidate simply because his running mate is a woman.

Senator McCain may not know this but most women are not only perceptive and intuitive when it comes to politicians but also knowledgeable, savvy, and immune to tactics aimed at the gullible and the ignorant.

Identity theft

This week’s New Yorker magazine cover, called ‘The Politics of Fear,’ with a triumphant Barack and Michelle Obama standing in the Oval Office dressed up in and surrounded by the accoutrements of extreme right-wing fear and terrorism is, to put it mildly, tasteless.

I choose to put it mildly because its irony is so extreme that it is hard for me to moderate my reaction to it. In my opinion it goes so far that it turns around on itself and attacks its own tail.

There was a time when the New Yorker was, for me, unassailable. With its unique format, its superb fiction, poetry, cartoons, and reviews (think Pauline Kael), its elegant typography and meticulous editing, it was all of a piece – including its ads, which resided side by side with content in understated compatibility.

Then it was swallowed up by S.I. Newhouse and Conde Nast Publications and began its gradual and inevitable physical transformation into a clone of every other popular magazine, initially in its ads, and eventually in the overall look and feel. Editor Tina Brown completed the demolition during her tenure in the 90s, which is when I left it behind.

What it seemed to me to retain, when I returned to it infrequently, were the sublime and utterly unique humor of its cover art, its witty and on-the-nose cartoons, its excellent (though not as plentiful) fiction, and its intelligent and principled editorial choices. Which is why I decided to welcome it into my home again.

Now I wonder what part of its anatomy will be sacrificed next to some under-considered mandate to vanquish with shock and awe. Times change. Magazines change with the times. And the New Yorker – this icon of taste, humor, and irony – is yet another victim of identity theft.

The terrier and the hound

I love dogs. When I see dogs I tend to block out the human element and focus on the four-legged personalities. Perhaps that’s why the lead-up to yesterday’s Pennsylvania primary made me think of a feisty terrier and a lanky and dignified hound.

The terrier is running just behind the hound. She is barking and confrontational. The hound ignores her and continues on his way, just wanting to get on with his business. He is, however, irritated and becoming more so as the terrier becomes bolder. But the terrier won’t stop; in fact, she is gaining ground and seems intent on getting close enough to attack.

When the terrier grabs hold of the hound’s back leg, he drags her along, still hoping to avoid a fight. But the terrier won’t let go and the hound is forced to turn and defend himself.

Who’s going to get hurt? Well, both are. And meantime there’s a white-haired and badly scarred pit bull coming towards them. He has survived abuse and mistreatment in his youth and he has a temper he can’t always control. He’s hoping they will do enough damage to each other to save him the trouble of having to deal with their combined strength and courage.

But no matter. He knows how to survive. Didn’t he prove that seven dog-years ago?

The fierce urgency of now

Last night, as I was watching and listening to Barack Obama, it occurred to me that there’s something to be said for having a poet at the helm. We have not had a poet in office since Kennedy, nor have we had a president who elicits, almost effortlessly, such enthusiasm for his words.

Obama, who was at a high school in Texas, began by answering a question he had not been asked: why was he running in this election? He is relatively young, and could wait. His answer was to quote Martin Luther King on “the fierce urgency of now.” Later, in answering a question about global policy, he quoted Kennedy, saying, “Never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate.”

In both instances, and in his overall delivery, he was in command of his words, as is a poet, and elicited an emotional response, as does a poet.

I am not climbing off the Hillary/Barack fence because of the poetry of this man’s message. But I am acknowledging the appeal of a potential Commander in Chief of Words.