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Aug. 18, 2000 | Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) is fighting a difficult battle for reelection. Her Orange County district has historically voted Republican. But she's a fighter; in 1996, she wrested the seat from long-term Rep. (and well-known right-wing nutball) Robert Dornan. Money being, as the late Jesse Unruh famously put it, the mother's milk of politics, she scheduled a big fundraising event to promote Hispanic voter registration for Aug. 15, while the Democratic Convention would be in town. Early on, the auguries for the event were promising; every ticket was sold. But then Al Gore indignantly refused to put in an appearance, and the Democratic National Committee gave her an extraordinary ultimatum: Cancel the fundraiser or forget about attending, let alone receiving air-time during the Democratic Convention itself.
What was the nature of their objection? Simply this: Sanchez's fundraiser was to have taken place at the Playboy Mansion. Bear in mind that there weren't going to be bunnies running amok at her event --- clothing emphatically wasn't optional --- there wouldn't have been any skinny-dipping in the grotto, let alone sex in the Champagne Room --- so the DNC's queasiness didn't relate to anything that was actually scheduled to occur at the Mansion. It was simply a reaction to the venue itself.
And they won. The bluenoses won. For all the small-minded imbecility of their position, they had the heavy artillery on their side, and they won. Although Sanchez stubbornly resisted for weeks, last weekend she finally buckled. The world is once again safe for G-rated fundraisers.
Welcome to American politics, post-Clinton. The pooh-bahs of the Democratic Party have evidently decided that it's a bad strategy to acknowledge, however indirectly, that sexual pleasure and sexual appetite even exist. A passing glance at the four nominees of both major parties would reinforce the notion. Not one of them has any juice. Richard Cheney looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy, grown to premature senescence and none too happy about it. Joseph Lieberman looks like your bachelor uncle, the one who, when his name comes up, your mother rolls her eyes and then hopes you didn't notice. Al Gore looks as if he were assembled in a subterranean lab somewhere in the Bavarian Alps. And George W. Bush has the haunted eyes of a guy who woke up one morning after a really decadent party, profoundly shaken by how much he enjoyed it and determined never to have such a good time again.
Judging by superficial appearances, all of them would have been eligible for the role of Grand Vizier in ancient Egypt. Which tends to suggest that, as far as sexual mores are concerned, we've retreated to the 1950s, an epoch when the whole country felt it had the right to a rooting interest in the durability of Doris Day's putative virginity.
The pendulum always swings too far, that's something you can depend on. And it's patently the case here. But many might find it paradoxical that the current mood of neo-Victorianism springs from the Clinton scandals. Didn't the outcome of that imbroglio prove exactly the opposite, that Americans are no longer puritanically censorious? Didn't the president's job approval ratings remain healthy throughout the whole messy business? Weren't Republicans punished at the polls for pursuing impeachment? Have Americans not displayed quasi-European jaded sophistication?
All of that may be true, and yet it's my impression that the nation's response was somewhat more complex and nuanced than outright enthusiasm for blow jobs from interns in the environs of the Oval Office. (Interns and others -- those who haven't read the Starr Report documentation have an incomplete picture of what transpired.) There was surely no overwhelming groundswell for impeachment, but that needn't suggest Clinton's reputation was unaffected by the scandal. The political culture may be overreacting -- I sincerely hope it is -- but it's overreacting to something.
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