- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

Here's a new way to think about the Gender Gap. To decide which candidate we like best we should think of our guy as a car.

A focus group in California, asked just this question, identified Al Gore as either a Ford Taurus, a Chevy station wagon, or a Volvo: Safe, square and not very daring.

George W. was identified as a Maserati or a Mustang convertible. (No adjectives necessary.) The New York Times headline over this story says it all: "Among Men, It's Bush the Maserati by a Mile."

This coincides, metaphorically speaking, with an analysis by Susie Turnbull, chairman of the Women's Caucus of the Democratic National Committee. George W., she says, would be "a great first date," but Al's the guy you want to take home to meet the folks as "the man you're going to marry." Hmmmmmm. Even if he's a Volvo?

Approximately 47 percent of women who are likely to vote say they prefer Al Gore in a recent Times/CBS News poll, but that's still 7 points shy of Bill Clinton's female majority in 1996 and troublesome for Al as long as George W. holds on to his leads of up to 20 points among men.

Radical feminists who argue with my view that men and women are wired differently have accused me of being "male identified." I'm not quite sure what that means, but if it means that I'd rather drive a Mustang convertible than a Volvo sedan, they've got me in their headlights. (Full disclosure: I've never owned anything but a convertible, though never a Mustang.)

The car analogy may be a stretch, but concerns over masculine images in this campaign are not. Both Al Gore and George W. try to dilute their testosterone levels or hide them with oh-so-sensitive appeals to Oprah's audience of women, but what most of us males and females really want to measure is how comfortable these men are in their own male skins.

The specifics of the vice president's famous exaggerations, for example, are less crucial than the fact that he thinks he has to make them in the first place. The fibs and stretchers inevitably cast a certain phoniness over Al's demeanor. Don Imus likens the vice president's much-remarked grunts and sighs in the first debate to the noise of a moose in heat. This is not a guy who looks like he generally snorts; he sounds like he's trying to be something he isn't.

Nor does the pumped-up steroid physique, with neck rising to ears, suit the nerd with figures at his fingertips. He might do better with a lean and hungry look, like Cassius, with a slide rule in his back pocket and pencils in a plastic shirt-pocket protector. He pushes against type, looking more like parody than authenticity.

Camille Paglia, a kind of female version of Don Imus, writes in Salon.com that Al overcompensates for a "hothouse upbringing by dominating parents [which] probably produced his prissy, lisping Little Lord Fauntleroy personna." That's why he has trouble with men.

White- and blue-collar heterosexual men, we're told (but usually not by heterosexual men), are undergoing an identity crisis. The evidence is inexact and ranges from an attack on boy behavior from kindergarten through college to the rise of an aggressive female workforce.

The old rules no longer apply. Chivalry is dead. Man as breadwinner is gone with the wind, or at least gone with Ozzie. Bachelor, husband or father is no longer the protector of women but the competitor with women at home, office, on the jog and in the gym. A survey of popular titles in bookstores arranged under "Men's Studies" includes "The War Against Boys," "The Myth of Male Power," "The Decline of Males," "On Men: Masculinity in Crisis."

In fact, many single women probably favor Al Gore because they think he would pump up big government again, to take over what was formerly the role of the male protector. This doesn't appeal to most married women. They have other concerns. George W. appeals to the independent-minded boomer women who earn their own money and want to decide for themselves how to spend it, and on whom, and when. George W.'s promise to repeal the so-called "death tax," to enable boomer parents to leave their savings to their children, is naturally popular with these women.

Anyone who watches George W. work a room sees a man in tune with his masculinity, but more important, his promises require neither patronizing tone nor pedantic lecture. This makes him the antithesis of Al. Maybe those focused Californians know what they're talking about. What we've got is a race between a Volvo and a Maserati after all.

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