Does Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, wear too much
makeup? Did Paula Jones, President Clinton’s friend, expose herself to
ridicule when she posed nude for Penthouse? What was the $850,000 that
President Clinton was ordered to pay her all about? And how about Linda
Tripp, regularly satirized on NBC’s Saturday Night Live? Does she
really weight 300 pounds? Or is it only 200 pounds?
I offer these three ladies as passing examples of a new phase in
American mores. Growing up, I was told most firmly by my seniors that
poking fun at people because of infirmities was unkind and should not be
tolerated. And poking fun at them because of anything at all in their
appearance should not be tolerated either. We have apparently entered a
Now, Katherine Harris is a distinctly attractive woman. But all this
apparently lies in the eye of the beholder. For quite a few years now,
women with “incorrect” politics have been considered fair game for all
sorts of barbs about their physical appearance. And this merely
reflects a general antipathy for their perceived politics.
Ms. Harris seemed, for a day or two, to have it in her power to
decide who would be the next president of the United States. Now, in
the minds of the generally liberal American media, this is a dangerous
position for a Republican woman to be in. In fact, it is almost
unbearable. The simplest thing for the liberal media was to attempt to
destroy her. But, of course, in this freedom-loving, democratic
country, this was rather difficult to achieve so an earnest attempt was
made to discredit her to the point where she could not be taken
seriously. Whether this attempt was successful has yet to be seen.
What has been established is that the level of propriety for dealing
with people in public life has radically declined. A lot of this can be
blamed on President Clinton, whose descent into a figure of fun was
really his own doing. But his decline, however merited, has left a
taste of angry hostility in the mouths of his Republican opponents –
this and a lust to “even the score.” So every prominent Republican who
has raised his head to oppose the Clinton “team” has been judged most
savagely by the media. For if Republicans are allowed to gain and even
win because of Clinton’s footloose behavior, what was it all for?
Perhaps Mr. Clinton should have behaved himself.
Perhaps Florida’s well-dressed secretary of state should wear less
makeup. In a somewhat demented attack on Katherine Harris from the
Washington Post’s fashion editor, Robin Givhan, Harris is described as
having lips “overdrawn with berry-red lipstick,” and of the “creamy sort
that smears all over a coffee cup and leaves smudges on shirt collars.”
Miss Harris’ skin, the description continued, “had been plastered and
powdered to the texture of pre-war walls in need of a skim coat. And
her eyes, rimmed in lines and frosted with blue shadow, bore the
telltale homogenous spikes of false eyelashes. Caterpillars seemed to
rise and fall with every bat of her eyelid. …
“Hers were not the delicate individual lashes that can be used to
fill out sparse hairs and give the eyes a lush canopy,” the text
continues. These were “cartoon lashes, destined for a ‘Saturday Night
“The cruel took to calling her the dragon lady,” says Givham, “and it
quickly became clear that her 15 minutes of fame would be spent as the
butt of jokes for late-night comics, morning talk-show hosts, and the
Internet millions. By the time folks finished deriding her makeup, they
couldn’t stop the momentum. They went on to the clothes. …
“Who knows what thoughts and concerns are whizzing through Harris’s
mind,” goes the account. “But if body language reveals anything, it is
that this woman is extraordinarily tense in virtually every photograph.
Her mouth is set in a jagged line. Harris is trapped in a torment of
historical proportion. And it shows on her face. Harris did what any
reasonable person would. She looked in the mirror and began to apply
makeup. And apply makeup. And apply makeup. …”
One gets the none-too-subtle impression that the Washington Post
fashion editor doesn’t much like Katherine Harris. But does a dislike
of Ms. Harris’ makeup constitute a valid reason for opposing George W.
Bush? The Washington Post reporter doesn’t mention in her piece that
Ms. Harris has a degree from Harvard or that she is married and has a
16-year-old daughter. In fact, the account was judged by the Washington
Post ombudsman as being far too unbalanced and vicious to be printed.
But printed it was, and you get the drift.
For passions are running high. Was Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz
entitled to call Katherine Harris “a crook”? Meanwhile the court of
elite feminine opinion considered Katherine Harris’ makeup appropriate
only for a “funeral parlor,” according to the MSNBC Imus talk show.
Other female commentators from the elite fashion world were equally
harsh. But perhaps their verdict will be decided by the “court of
public opinion.” And George W. Bush might win (or lose) by an eyebrow.