- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

They call Al Gore the "Principled Fighter." This is not a joke. It is the theme of Day 3 of next month's Democratic Convention. But he of the earth tones and the hardwood brow can't seem to muster enough principles to fight off a Playboy bunny. A veritable warren of the buxom babes, unairbrushed and in the flesh, will serve as "welcomers" for a $3 million Democratic fund-raiser at the estate of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner on Day 2 of the Democratic Convention. Heavens to ERA. What are the champions of women's rights doing raising big bucks at this tawdry old den of sexploitation?

To be sure, the Playboy Mansion is about as far from a Buddhist temple as a fund-raiser can get, but Mr. Gore once again finds himself in a fund-raising pickle. It seems that Al "Principled Fighter" Gore so strongly disapproves of mixing bounding bunnies and donating Democrats that he has refused to attend but not so strongly as to ask the event's hostess, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, his handpicked vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to select a venue where women are less likely to wear tails. (No word on whether Bill Clinton who by the time of the Playboy fund-raiser will have "passed the baton" to Mr. Gore will show.)

This rather grotesque little shindig, which benefits Hispanic Unity USA, has some Democrats fuming. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, last week denounced it, telling National Public Radio that he will discourage colleagues from attending. "This totally contradicts what our party stands for in terms of equal rights, civil rights for all people and respecting the human dignity of every individual," Mr. Kennedy said. As for the vice president, Gore spokesman Chris Lehane told this newspaper's Bill Sammon, "We're not attending, participating, supporting, condoning or giving our imprimatur in any shape, way or form."

Of course, that doesn't mean "we" are not accepting bunny money. As Mr. Sammon also reported this week, Mr. Gore has over the last five years taken at least $8,500 from Mr. Hefner and his daughter, Playboy CEO Christie Hefner, while Mr. Kennedy's DCCC has received at least $26,000 from Mr. Hefner in the past four years. Indeed, Mr. Kennedy was the featured speaker at a recent DCCC fund-raiser at Miss Hefner's Chicago home. No wonder Miss Hefner was "very, very, very surprised at what Patrick Kennedy had to say," as Playboy Vice President Cindy Rakowitz put it. "It's very hard for her to understand how all of a sudden he feels the company she runs has a bad public image."

Bad enough not to go to their party, but not bad enough to refuse their money. What this Democratic "Playboy problem" does is highlight the coexistence of two clashing, but strangely complementary factions within the party: namely, the feminists and the libertines. The feminists claim to "empower" women by de-sexing society and are publicly embraced by the Democrats. And the libertines seek to objectify women as empty sexual vessels and are still kept on the side, even after Mr. Clinton successfully weathered the Lewinsky scandal.

In the end it is probably their mutual interest in abortion rights that binds the two groups together, and, in turn, weds them to the Democratic Party whose candidates, not coincidentally, will take the money and run, but won't stick around to press the flesh.

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