Long after John Edwards passes into oblivion he’ll be remembered for one thing: he brought out the touchy feelers in John Kerry. For two guys who didn’t much get along there was nothing like the prospect of shared power to turn them into ever-loving pals. But that doesn’t make their sudden unity any less appalling.
American men used to be American men. They would shake hands, period. Even fathers and sons. Or especially fathers and sons. That always amused the observer in me, growing up as I did in a somewhat different culture. Poles weren’t exactly Italians, but plenty warm nonetheless. Yet I also noticed my father wasn’t the hugging and kissing type either. As he saw it there were enough women in the house to take care of that. If he kissed me it was pretty much pro-forma. Better were the manly light pats on the cheek. And a firm handshake from him really meant something.
Now notice that for all their mutual groping Kerry-Edwards have yet to kiss. One old American habit dies hard. I recall an old clip in which General Eisenhower is presented with a French decoration and the general doing the honors pecks Ike on both cheeks in the French style. Ike looks rather horrified. The Frenchy might has well have been kissing him on the mouth, so far as he was concerned. That pretty much summarized the American view of men kissing men.
Then came the sixties-seventies, Alan Alda, ever meaner women demanding men become ever nicer, softer and more caring, and all the rest. One president became so good at it he could cry on cue. He got away with a lot else, including holding a free pass on the new requirement that men, in their new niceness, never ever attempt to put a hand on a woman without her notarized permission. Edwards-Kerry’s melding marks the logical end of a long progression. It also explains why having Hillary on the ticket would have proved a political liability for Kerry. Can you imagine his patting her on the rear as he recently did Edwards? Or putting his arm around her or tussling her hair?
Democrats think they’ve come a long way, but sexism remains institutionalized in their ranks. Hillary, as a woman, didn’t stand a chance to get on this year’s ticket. Kerry needed to shore up his therapeutic base. It’s bad enough that Teresa cringes each time he plays nice with her. Further frowns from the fair sex are the last thing he can risk.
But we still have the problem of Kerry’s unwillingness to kiss his Breck boy. Supposedly thanks to gay liberation and the apparent inevitability of same-sex marriage the spectacle of two men kissing in public shouldn’t be cause for alarm or even disapproval anymore. By refusing to kiss in public Kerry and Edwards are displaying a residual heterosexist bias. Hugging and groping can’t obscure what remains a fundamental homophobia.
Once again Republicans are the last ones to figure it out. In a joint appearance with President Bush on Wednesday, Dennis Miller, according to the Washington Post, “impl[ied] a homosexual attraction between Kerry and Edwards.” Miller had said, “Those two cannot keep their hands off each other, can they? I think I have a new idea for a new campaign slogan — use the bumper sticker ‘Hey, Get a Room.'”
Actually, that wouldn’t be a bad a idea. Know what would happen if the two Johns were to find themselves alone in a room? Not only would they not kiss, there’s also no chance they’d hug and grope and touch in any way at all. They’d be back to being American men again.
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