Columns » John Brummett

About that cleavage

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Hillary Clinton's campaign has sent out a fund-raising letter deploring that the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion columnist wrote about Hillary's showing cleavage when she recently spoke on the Senate floor.

Ann Lewis, signer of the letter, tells the Post's ombudsmen that comments on body parts are quite over the line in political coverage.

Send money because this is the kind of sexist nonsense that Hillary, as a pioneering woman, has to endure — that was the letter's point.

I would be well-pleased to say that I agree with Lewis, and hitchhike on that high road, except that somebody might do research.

You're reading the words of a guy who, in 1992, wrote that Bill Clinton ought to wear longer jogging shorts to cover those “ample, pasty thighs.” For years I referred to the now-svelte Mike Huckabee's “wide body.” Only weeks ago, I wrote that a Hillary-Obama ticket would overpower all those “combed-over” Republican white men. Hours ago, I was calling John Edwards a hair-styled Ken doll.

While the Post attempted to analyze Hillary's political and cultural decision to wear such a thing, not the physical attribute itself, it seems that I've ridiculed a series of men on a purely physical basis simply for the apparent amusement of it.

My criticism of the Post's piece was that I didn't see all that much cleavage in the photographed images from C-SPAN on which the commentary was based. Hillary wore a V-neck top that dipped, but not widely. It was but a tiny glimpse, hardly a peek.

It was not enough to worry about. That's what I'm saying. There was not enough fleshly display to warrant any thoughtful analysis on whether Clinton had done this tactically to tamper with her image or send a subtle message to a demographic, maybe male voters ages 18 to 18 1/2.

If Hillary had spoken on the Senate floor with a more expansive breast-area exposure, displaying more of the usually obscured flesh of that region, attired in something one might be readily expect of Pamela Anderson, would commentary thereon have been tasteless, out of bounds?

Of course not. Coverage would have been commanded. This is where I differ with Ann Lewis. The matter is one of fair comment as long as it concerns the candidate's behavior and judgment. A commentator can properly raise questions about the amount of flesh displayed — more specifically, about the thinking or lack thereof behind the display — without commenting on the flesh itself.

If George W. Bush started traipsing around in gaping shirts showing chest hair, assuming he possesses any, would that be fair and appropriate fodder for political commentary? Darned straight, it would. Americans would need to address whether their president had misplaced what was left of his mind.

You can make fun of a guy for getting an absurdly expensive haircut without making fun of the hair.

For that matter, nearly every president we've had lately finds his hair turning grayer while he's in the White House. Is it over the line to refer to that? Of course not. It's ripe for commentary on stress. People once speculated on whether Ronald Reagan colored his hair. I guess that was all right. It may be that Hillary colors hers. It's no biggie. All candidates regardless of gender tend to artificially alter their appearance. You ought to check the pancake makeup during a television debate.

So to conclude:

1. Hillary's display was entirely too subtle to warrant having attention called to it.

2. But Ann Lewis is wrong about a blanket taboo on mentioning body parts. More brazen flesh displays by major politicians of either gender would warrant commentary, not about the body parts themselves, but on the basis of appropriateness and judgment.

3. There's no excuse in the world for what I wrote about Bill's thighs or Mike's girth or any of the rest, and I ought to be ashamed.

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