- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

No campaign is complete without some official cool moments. Candidate Bill Clinton tooted his sax on late night TV, and Al Gore posed in tight trousers for Rolling Stone magazine once upon a time.

The cool moment has arrived for leading Democratic presidential contenders, who have displayed their excruciatingly hip sides to music channel VH1 after completing the “Presidential Pop Culture Quiz.” The results, with on-camera interviews from the candidates, will air tonight at 10:30.

Whether their efforts enhance the Democratic quest for the youth vote remains to be seen.

For example, the nation will know that Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut likes to kick back, just like a regular Joe.

When asked what he did for fun, Mr. Lieberman, who dropped out of the race after the show’s taping, said: “Sit around the house. Have a beer. Turn on the TV. Probably watch a sports event.”

“You know. Relax. Be with my family. Enjoy,” he told VH1 host Aamer Haleem.

Wesley Clark is more exotic. The former Army general knew the definition of “metrosexual,” confessed a taste for chocolate-covered gummi bears and is downright chummy with Madonna.

Mr. Clark regularly listens to Madonna’s “Greatest Hits,” he said, adding, “Oh yeah. We went over to her house and we met Madonna. We met her husband, sister and some of her friends.”

Definitely old school, Howard Dean revealed he still listens to the Grateful Dead and the Beatles.

But perhaps he’s really “Hip Hop Howard,” because also he listens to rap singer Wyclef Jean, and agreed that if elected president, he would try to reunite Mr. Jean with the Fugees, the singer’s former music group.

“I would try, believe me,” Mr. Dean noted. “I’m a huge John Forte fan. I’m a big Lauryn Hill fan. It’d be a great crew.”

Mr. Forte, the former Fugees producer, is in a federal prison for cocaine possession and would need a presidential pardon; Miss Hill now is a hip-hop chanteuse in her own right.

But on to Sen. John Kerry. The front-runner from Massachusetts identified with the travails of actor Ben Affleck, recently split from singer Jennifer Lopez.

“I met Ben a couple of times,” Mr. Kerry said. “When you get in public life you kind of become a little bit of public property and you have to face that. I’ve put up with it awhile.”

Is this all just trite blather? No, Mr. Haleem said from Los Angeles yesterday.

“These answers show what the candidates are like inside. Pop culture is part of our society, and the knowledge of it can reveal what the man knows beyond platform policy,” the host said. “And that’s not trivial at all.”

The cool factor is tricky though. Truly hip candidates — who have lived the culture they gush about — prove that they can exist beyond the rarified realm of the campaign trail. But one false note, and the analysts descend.

“Panting after the youth vote: the Democratic candidates make fools of themselves,” the Weekly Standard proclaimed after the hopefuls tried to flaunt their hipness at an MTV “Rock the Vote” debate a few weeks ago.

No one can blame them for trying, however: Those under 30 constitute a third of the voting-age population.

Meanwhile, the four Democrats did get some things right on the VH1 quiz. They all knew that “the Boss” was Bruce Springsteen.

But Mr. Lieberman did not know who wrote the Harry Potter books. And Mr. Clark did not know who starred in “Total Recall,” the meaning of the term “bling-bling” and to which music group Justin Timberlake belonged. Mr. Clark guessed the Beach Boys.

“Well, I think it’s the only test he’s failed in his life,” Gert Clark, his wife, noted in the aftermath.

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