Courting the Finicky Women


New York Times

October 15, 2004

I'm just not that into them.

I could apply all the rationalizations women use to make excuses for men who are clearly not their dream guys from the new best seller "He's Just Not That Into You," by two former "Sex and the City" writers:

"It's better than nothing." "It's just the way he was brought up." "He just says things he doesn't mean." "He's got a lot on his mind." "Maybe he's intimidated." "He's just finding himself."

But in the end, I'm forced to admit, I'm just not that into them.

The third debate date with Long-Faced Guy and Mini-Me was not particularly gratifying, edifying or electrifying. Neither the robotic Kerry (still struggling to land an open punch on a president divorced from reality) nor the herky-jerky Bush (still struggling to find an appealing onstage persona) seemed presidential or inspiring.

The two candidates were trying for sparks on Wednesday night, jousting over the 61 percent of undecided voters who are women, such as the single women, the security moms and the Medicare grandmas.

John Kerry and George W. Bush remembered the ladies with bouquets of uxoriousness and spirituality.

It was a contest to see who was closer to his family and who was closer to God. Sounding like a New Age guru, Mr. Kerry burbled: "I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet." Sounding like Moses, he intoned: "We're all God's children, Bob."

The two gentlemen callers competed to offer the sweetest encomiums to their wives and daughters, though Mr. Kerry showed the bite in his overwhitened, overeager "I'm smarter than you but I'm trying not to show it" grin when he strategically dragged Dick Cheney's gay daughter back into the debate, a dead-wrong thing to do.

The president - realizing that it's not enough to simply scare women to death about their kids by letting his creepy vice president put out his spooky threat that there will be more terrorist attacks if Mr. Kerry is elected - wooed women voters with a reminiscence that sounded like a gauzy Lifetime movie scene: love-at-first-sight over the burgers.

"I can't tell you how lucky I am when I met her in the backyard of Joe and Jan O'Neill in Midland, Tex.," Mr. Bush recalled. "It was the classic backyard barbecue. O'Neill said, 'Come on over, I think you'll find somebody who might interest you.' So I said all right, bopped over there. There's only four of us there. And not only did she interest me, I guess you could say it was love at first sight."

Mr. Kerry tried to show more anima than Mr. Bush by talking about the strong moral compass provided by his wife and daughters and throwing in a sentimental tribute to his late mom: "And just before I was deciding to run and she was in the hospital, and I went in to talk to her and tell her what I was thinking of doing. ... And she just looked at me and she said, 'Remember: integrity, integrity, integrity.' Those are the three words that she left me with."

After too much time spent on chummy talk about wives and not enough spent on tart talk about stem cells and on how the president and vice president should not be considered authorities on foreign policy or national security, given their dismal performance in these areas, I was missing the unsentimental fireball Howard Dean, whose wife never even showed up to see him campaign until the press made a fuss about it.

Wednesday's exchange was saintly, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The rivals, dressed in almost identical reddish polka-dot ties and the inevitable flag lapel pins, sparred with equally lame lines: Tony Soprano versus the Left Bank.

Watching Mr. Bush's tired retread of his dad's barbs against Michael Dukakis (He's a liberal! He's a liberal! He's from Massachusetts! He's on a first-name basis with Teddy Kennedy! Teddy Kennedy!), I found myself longing for some original moment. If only Mr. Kerry, who follows Mr. Bush's lead too much, had broken out with a Looney Tunes lapel pin.

Or if Mr. Kerry had only taken off after Mr. Bush when he began ranting that "only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough."

Mr. Kerry should have at least tried to pierce Mr. Bush's nimbus of mendacity on Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda and the economy, and reached for a dramatic moment - à la Captain "Ah, but the strawberries" Queeg, or Jack "You can't handle the truth" Nicholson - by riposting, "Only a delusional frat boy from Crawford. ..."

Then I could have gotten into them.