- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

ON MEDIA

A kiss used to be just a kiss. Now it constitutes a media event.
Al and Tipper Gore exposed the world to podium passion when the pair kissed with great vigor before the vice president's big speech last Thursday night. The moment has since caused a rumpus in print and broadcast.
Was it real or staged, tacky or cute? Was it the mark of a man of passion or some old coot all full of himself? Would there be, uh, lip bounce?
While new polls showed the vice president pulling into a virtual tie with George W. Bush, and the two candidates spent yesterday crisscrossing the country drumming up support, the only topic on everyone's lips was "the kiss."
The press has hissed and buzzed about the kiss which the New York Times clocked at 3 seconds long for four days now.
It was, the Associated Press noted, "a lingering liplock" and "the passionate kiss he sprung on his stunned wife before his convention speech." The kiss was called disgusting, wonderful, hot, defining and just plain "yucky" by various observers.
Yesterday morning, Mr. Gore addressed his lips on all three networks.
"Everyone was talking about it over the weekend," said ABC's Diane Sawyer, advising Mr. Gore that 107 articles had already been written on the topic. "Did you plan it?"
"No," replied Mr. Gore, 52. "I think you can tell from watching it that it was completely spontaneous. I was just overcome with the emotions that I was feeling… . It was kind of an outpouring there that just moved me to express my love for Tipper."
It was the same story on NBC.
"I didn't map out some strategy. I was really overcome by the emotions in the hall," Mr. Gore said, again denying it had been scripted into the program, which included a family slide show, a group hug and much self-congratulatory hoopla.
Over at CBS, Mr. Gore again assured one and all that the spooning was not an attempt to shirk his old "wooden" image.
It might be a quick fix, though. In their zeal to reinvent Mr. Gore as an alpha male by November, his campaign handlers have floated several trial balloons past the American public in the past year.
In a dubious moment, Mrs. Gore declared her husband "sexy" in a TV interview, which caused considerable glee among his critics. The idea has since been adjusted to be "sexy" within the confines of his own home.
The Gore's nuptial bliss has been fodder for much campaign content lately, a deliberate contrast to the travails of the Clinton marriage. Some analysts believe it is yet another canny way for Mr. Gore to distance himself from the Clinton White House.
There's more, though.
This year, Mr. Gore sported a new earth-toned wardrobe, tight blue jeans, cowboy boots. He hollered on occasion, and gesticulated. Earth tones, however, were absent during the convention, replaced by a classic navy suit and red power tie.
The podium kiss, meanwhile, has amassed some negative points.
It was, noted the New York Times, "more suited to the third date than the fourth night of a convention," and a mark of "kissy-face" and "exhibitionist" conventions.
"Memorable but embarassing," said CNN's Robert Novak.
"Here's a guy who says the Playboy Mansion's not an appropriate place for him to go to somebody else's fund-raiser because it's too racy, and then he gives an X-rated kiss on national television," noted Jack Germond of the Baltimore Sun.
The romantic moment did not get good marks at the London Daily Telegraph, either.
Perhaps Mrs. Gore thought "passion could transform the frog into the prince," wrote Mark Steyn, who theorized that Mr. Gore's "problem is not that he's dull as the media keeps telling him, but that he's insecure about seeming dull."
Which can take its toll.
"You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is but a sigh. And as the Dems left Los Angeles, that sound you heard is one long, weary, resigned sigh," Mr. Steyn concluded.
Democratic delegates, party loyalists and a few commentators bought into the kiss.
"Wow, he's got fire," said a woman delegate from Wisconsin. "Nobody can say he doesn't have a personality."
"Did you see his kiss," gushed a peer from Texas. "I was, like, o-o-o-o."
Before moving on to regulation campaign mode yesterday, Mr. Gore did a little damage control. After reaffirming that the buss was genuine, he tweaked his story a tad.
A man of passion, after all, should have a little of the playful rogue in him.
Mr. Gore declared yesterday his kiss was not meant to sway the public but "to send a message to Tipper." On cue, Mrs. Gore later assured reporters yesterday that she had indeed received that message.
The couple crossed over from politics to pop culture when "Entertainment Tonight" declared that the "gripping lipper with Tipper" was right up there with other famous televised kisses, like the one between Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson six years ago.
"But will Al's big mouth-move help him politically?" asked the "ET" reporter.
We won't know for months. Both public image and campaign message is a cumulative process. Perhaps it would be best to wait until at least Halloween to determine how Mr. Gore and his passions have played out in the collective voter psyche.
The kiss, for now anyway, is still just a kiss.
Jennifer Harper can be reached at 202/636-3085 or by e-mail at Harper@twtmail.com.

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