The Absent Alpha

In a Race Between Two Filial Men, Women Will Decide Who Is the Beloved Son

In the end, both sexes vote at the point where reason and emotion meet. If men buy Bush's politics, that's not to say they don't also see him as a Maserati to Gore's Volvo. The problem for many women is a disjunction between their feelings about Gore and their reasons for supporting him. Most men who agree with Bush also like him, but many women (and men) who agree with Gore don't. And while the majority of women will stick with their assessment of the issues rather than their affection for the candidate, a sizable minority will vote exactly as men do: from the gut.

In the end, enough women may go with Gore to compensate for the bullishness of Bush's mostly male base. But it's never exhilarating to do the right thing at the expense of one's emotions, and it may not even be the most rational way to vote. After all, in a world where the unprecedented is the only precedent, we want our leaders to be sexual enough to pick up the scent of possibility. In the absence of an alpha, this election may hinge on which son is the better lay.

Making love is a far cry from bullying, as Rick Lazio learned when he invaded Hillary Clinton's space during their first debate. It's just possible that, had Rick been a gent, he would be leading now. But like Gore, he compensated for all that ribbing by female pundits like Maureen Dowd (who calls Lazio "Little Ricky") and Andrea Peyser (who complained that he had "graceful fingers that slope gently upward, like a girl's") by going way too far. If Lazio somehow wins, the only explanation will be the preternatural rage real men feel toward Hillary, known in many locker rooms as the cunt. When you read the broadsides against her from righteous and rational men, remember that nine women have run for higher office in this state to the same chorus of complaints—about everything from their hypocrisy to their harridan personalities to their lesbian tendencies. All these women failed. Never underestimate the power of sexism in New York politics.

But what's really interesting about invading your opponent's space is that it also worked against Gore. His misjudgment has allowed Bush to play the vulnerability card to women even as Dick Cheney plies the whiteboy vote at tailgate parties and other convocations of the buds. (Face it. No Jewish candidate, no matter how socially conservative, can shine in a fly-fishing store.) This is the essence of the new Republican politics: Court women, pat minorities, and suffer queers. They are playing this game with all the skill that once belonged to Bill—and far more reactionary politics.

Will women fall for the backlash boy who wears the face of a beloved son? It's an eternal question, and probably the one thing in American politics that has less to do with gender than with the ability to see through grace to where your real interest lies. Americans have never been very good at that.

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