We knew for sure that it was the Silly Season last week when we learned that Vice President Al Gore had hired a feminist writer as a $5,000-per-month campaign consultant to transform him from a passive, wimpy Beta male into a dominant, macho Alpha male. And no, as Dave Barry likes to say, I'm not making this stuff up.
When the news leaked out (as it always does), Gore spokespersons confirmed that feminist author Naomi Wolf, 37, was on the campaign payroll as a "wardrobe consultant" at the equivalent of $180,000 per year - more than the vice president makes - to advise Gore on how to be more assertive and what clothing to wear in order to make himself more attractive to female voters. I guess that's why Gore was wearing "reassuring" greens and browns as he campaigned in New Hampshire last week. He blended right in with the fall foliage. How reassuring!
Once Ms. Wolf's consulting fee became public, and the jokes began, the Gore campaign reduced her stipend to "only" $5,000 per month, or $60,000 a year, still well above the national average income but less than her candidate earns. If the transformation is successful, I expect Gore to challenge the Alpha male in the Oval Office to a wrestling match. How about two falls out of three on the Jerry Springer Show, or a WWF brawl refereed by Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura? By contrast, if they were Beta males, they'd go on Oprah to discuss their feelings.
Ms. Wolf is best known for her 1997 best-seller, "Promiscuities," written in the "first person sexual," which encouraged teenagers to experiment with other alternatives to premarital sex. Shades of Jocelyn Elders! Remember her? Wolf, by the way, used to be an adviser to Dick Morris, the guy who used to give political advice to President Clinton before Morris was caught cavorting with prostitutes in a fancy hotel across the street from the White House.
AOL News columnist Roger Simon immediately volunteered to become a Gore campaign consultant. "If Gore had paid me even a quarter of what he was paying Wolf," he wrote, "I would have told him, 'Anybody who gave advice to Dick Morris forgot to give him very basic advice, which is: Nobody in the Clinton White House pays for sex; they all get it for free.'"
But seriously, what does l'affaire Wolf tell us about Al Gore? It tells us that after more than 25 years in public life he still doesn't know who he is. Which is pretty scary when you realize that he wants to be the Top Dog - President of the United States and commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. As columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times, "When a man has to pony up a fortune to a woman to teach him how to be a man, that definitely takes the edge off his top-dogginess.... Mr. Gore has obscenely overpaid for ...advice given to all vice presidents: Be your own guy."
Rob Morse of the San Francisco Examiner was even more blunt: "Any man who'd pay a pop feminist $15,000 a month to tell him he's a subordinate male is a hopeless case." Morse opined that "a real Alpha male, a leader of the pack, would wear what he damn pleases. (Oakland Mayor) Jerry Brown long ago shucked earth tones for macho black shirts with black suits." Now there's a truly novel vision, Jerry Brown as a male fashion plate. I still think of him as a '60s kinda guy in bell bottoms and tie-dyed T-shirts.
Of course there's nothing worse for a presidential candidate than to be made fun of. Just look at poor old Dan Quayle, who never learned to spell potato. He was a vice president too. Let's face it, vice presidents are vulnerable, and as long as they keep saying stupid things and making stupid decisions, they'll be the butt of bad political jokes. So welcome to the club, Al. You earned it!
Ms. Wolf reminds Newsday columnist James Pinkerton of Monica Lewinsky: "Same creamy cheeks, same bee-stung lips, same startled-fawn eyes." Pinkerton recalled that even as Ms. Wolf burst into national prominence in 1991 with her first book, 'The Beauty Myth,' in which she blamed the male-dominated fashion and cosmetics industries for making women feel inadequate about their looks, she played a double game "by posing and primping for a glamour shot on the book's cover."
In the end, however, Ms. Wolf's expensive advice may turn the tide in the 2000 presidential election. If she's able to convert our sensitive, New Age vice president into a lean, mean electoral machine, and he wins, then she's earned her money. And President Gore can appoint her to a new high-level White House position: Wardrobe Consultant.
WHY? Michael Hillerby, a former member of the chorus of the Nevada Opera in Reno, has been appointed director of the State Department of Museums, Library and Arts. Is that the best we can do? Or are we fresh out of professional librarians?
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.