PAPER CUTS: Kissing Up: The Art of Political Pandering

If you've been scratching your head, trying to decipher the meaning of "Compassionate Conservativism," you can stop worrying. After a long weekend in Austin with his handlers, his cats, his favorite pillow and his blankie, George W. Bush has dropped the oxymoron.The shrewd blending of faith, hope, and charity for the top 5 percent, was an identical twin to dad's miasmic 1000 Points of Light, but to the everlasting credit of the electorate, we're still not buying it. Never a man to sail into a strong headwind, desperate to reassure his suddenly uneasy backers, and head off the McCain insurgency, George W. has dramatically altered course. He is now a "Reformer with Results". This bespeaks an admirable flexibility, and a chameleonlike capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Just what we're looking for in a national leader.Bush is not the only candidate who checks to see which way the wind is blowing before he takes a stand. Hillary Clinton sashayed into the Empire State last year with the sublime confidence of someone who had no clue what it meant to be a New Yorker. Apparently she thought she had been elected Pope even before the College of Cardinals convened. But since the smoke is still black, and there are actual voters to be won over, Mrs. Clinton has been switching gears faster than Dale Earnhardt at the Indy 500.From her instant reversal of position on imprisoned Puerto Rican revolutionaries, to embracing both sides in the Palestinian-Israeli standoff, Hillary has flopped and floundered like a fish out of water The only time she hasn't offending some segment of the electorate by advocating opposite positions is when she's doing one of her listening tours. Turns out kissing up is not as easy as it looks.Last fall, in a self-promotional coup de foudre so remarkable that it makes Donald Trump look like Father Damien, the First Lady became Suddenly Jewish. Well OK, not 100 percent. Jewish by virtue of her maternal grandmother's second husband. How heartwarming it will be to see her at the seder table, raising a glass of Manischewitz and promising: "Next Year, in Jerusalem".This week she dropped the name Clinton from her campaign, and is henceforth just plain "Hillary". The candidate can now be whomever she chooses. Having made the play for the Jewish vote, only the Hispanic, Irish, Italian, Polish, and African American constituencies are left to win in her quest for the New York Senate seat. Any day now, we can expect to hear that the First Lady is related to Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Frank McCourt, Vaclav Havel, a direct descendant of Sally Hemmings, and a distant cousin of the Sopranos. Vice President Gore, on the other hand, is not only changing his mind, and his voting record, he's developing multiple personality disorder. On the advice of his image consultant Naomi Wolf, he has dropped the bespoke suits and other equipage of the beta Eastern male, outfitted himself in cowboy boots, and amped up the downhome twang. This week, he donned a hardhat and starched bluejeans to play just plain folks at a midtown New York construction site.After grabbing for the union label, Gore capped off a week of costume changes by appearing onstage at New York's Lincoln Center with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus for a stirring rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Forthcoming events include clogging with the Lord of the Dance in Boston, driving a tank with retired General Norman Schwarzkopf and Michael Dukakis, and donating sperm to Melissa Etheridge.Despite the cynical assumption behind these campaigns, that if you look like a winner, you deserve to win, few of us are buying it. In a democracy, you've actually got to convince more than half of the people to vote for you, and in order to do that, you've got to be somebody. You've got to stand for something real, to carry some weight. You've got to have gravitas. Like sincerity, if you haven't got it, it's awfully hard to fake it.After the New Hampshire primary, George W. referred to the first in the nation contest as just a bump in the road. Maybe so, but as New Englanders very well know, it's those bumps that tear out your fuel line and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Happy motoring.

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