Thursday, November 18, 2004

Read his lips.

One night a couple weeks ago, I think it was just after the election, my wife went to bed early, and when I later crawled in next to her I whispered in her ear "Who do you love?"

Half asleep (and possibly dreaming) she mumbled "President Bush."

I thought of that today upon reading this piece in today's USA Today. In the article, Maria Puente asks the most pressing question of the moment. Is there too much kissing going on at the White House?

President Bush has bussed two women in public in the past two days. First, Condoleezza Rice, whom he kissed on the cheek twice when he nominated her for secretary of State on Tuesday. He went even further with Margaret Spellings, whom he smacked on the lips when he nominated her as secretary of Education on Wednesday.

Eyebrows, as they say, shot up and waggled. It was such a ... European gesture for the aw-shucks-I'm-jes'-a-Texan president. Besides, in these fearful times — you know, terrorism, sexual harassment lawsuits — isn't this sort of thing a no-no in a business setting?

Though this may raise eyebrows here in the upper midwest where our personal space bubbles are measured in yards, my wife, who lived and worked in Texas for two years, tells me that this is very much a Texas thing. There's a lot of, for lack of a better term, "social kissing."

Risky business, says Amy Oppenheimer, a California business consultant on workplace harassment issues. Powerful men kissing their subordinates in public can be misconstrued by the kissee or people watching the kiss.

And there's the whole male-female thing, too: Bush didn't kiss his close pal Alberto Gonzales when he nominated him for attorney general last week.

That whole "male-female" thing? Hmmm. Now that she mentions it, the fact that he didn't kiss Gonzales is pretty suspicious. Could it be that our President doesn't kiss men? (Gasp!) How utterly backward! How closed-minded! This just shows what a homophobic redneck he really is. Why won't he kiss a few men!?

"Kissing is social behavior, not professional behavior, and people have different boundaries about it," says Oppenheimer. "The only person who would know if (a woman is) uncomfortable with it is her — and why would she say anything if she weren't?"

President Clinton did unspeakable things with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office, and the press lectured us that it wasn't our business. But President Bush gives Condi a peck on the cheek, and the press loses its composure. The sticking point may be the public nature of these two kisses. Had Bill and Monica taken care of business on the Washington Mall, perhaps the press would have seen things differently.

Maybe this is just another attempt by the press to make sure people see Condoleezza Rice and Margaret Spellings as being completely under Bush's control with no wills of their own. Sure, they're supposed to be his subordinates, but factor in the kissing and you've got something closer to coercion, sexual dominance and manipulation.

Or more likely, the President is just being a Texan. The press gets all freaked out when their subjects don't quite fit into the little boxes they've prepared for them.

My wife, on the other hand, now has plenty of fuel for future fantasies.

UPDATE: Heh. I know this is gossipy, but . . .

President Bush got two kisses from Margaret Spellings at the White House when he named the "energetic reformer" as nominee for Education Secretary.

That's more than Bush adviser Karl Rove was able to score when he once asked her out.

The mastermind behind Bush's presidential campaigns admitted Spellings dealt him a rare defeat in 1982 when they were both single and working on the Texas gubernatorial campaign of Bill Clements.

Spellings turned down his date proposal "brutally," Rove recalled. "It has taken my ego decades to recover."

UPDATE: Okay, this is just weird. The Washington Post seems to think this is newsworthy, too. Not only that, but just like USA Today, they also feel it necessary to point out that the President didn't kiss Alberto Gonzales.

The president did not kiss Alberto Gonzales, his nominee for attorney general. He was congratulated with a strong handshake and the sort of torso tackle that men give each other in lieu of an actual hug.

But the Washington Post takes it even farther.

As much as could be determined from the photo record, the president has never publicly kissed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. President Bush seems to reserve his pecks on the cheek for the ladies. Perhaps he will be kissing outgoing Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman goodbye?

In fact, the article is almost a grad-school dissertation on formal public kisses.

He did not execute the double buss that is used as a greeting throughout much of Europe, organized crime and the fashion industry. The double buss is not based on gender or age. In some ways it is a perfect greeting: intimate but not sexual, androgynous but warm. A man can use it to greet a male buddy, for instance. Women say hello to their girlfriends by bussing each cheek. Teenagers use the greeting among friends. As one might expect, there was nothing international about Bush's kisses.

His kisses were more substantial than the single air smooch favored by Hollywood and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In the execution of this kiss, no direct contact is made between lips and cheek. Instead, two cheeks touch gently and if the lips pucker at all, it is for naught.

I like Betsy's take on this:

What a wonderful picture to have the white president of the United States publicly kiss a black woman and no one thinks much of that fact. (Ed. Well, no one who matters.) Think of where we've come. A hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt caught such terrible flack for just inviting Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House. Now, a woman can be nominated to the highest cabinet post and her race is irrelevant except for the pause we take to marvel at that fact. She wasn't chosen because of her race, but because of her abilities. That is true equality. We've come a long way, baby.


At 4:39 PM, Blogger Sue Bob said...

I can't BELIEVE that they are writing about this. I'm a Texan and I get hugged and kissed by male acquaintances (and clients) all the time and think nothing of it.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Mommypundit said...

As usual, I have to agree with Sue Bob. I have lived in the South most of my life where male friends and colleagues routinely hug me and even call me "honey" with no disrespect intended...and none taken.

Not until I moved to Chicago and routinely did business in New York, did I have male colleagues give me a peck on the cheek. To me, this was a mark of warmth and trust that had been built in our working relationship. When the President gave these women a congratulatory peck, I thought it was just that...a sign of warmth and mutual respect.


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