Gender Politics; Who's on Top of the Game?

Article excerpt

Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There he was, a man making a serious run for the White House, taking questions from a panel of women who were used to talking about their hot flashes on national television. Barack Obama lopes onto the stage tall and handsome, like the basketball star, but in jacket and tie as if to keep the girls from fighting over his letter sweater. This is the television show the New York Times describes as "an estrogen-intense zone," an updated version of the kitchen table coffee klatch, where women get together to gossip over the latest public fad and private foible in their lives. They're usually flustered when there's a man around to hear what they're saying.

But this morning the ladies are flattered, not flustered, purring and eager to prey. "I'm skinny," their guest says, "but tough." When Barbara Walters tells him he's "sexy," he makes a fan of his hand and blows on it, suggesting they all take a moment to cool off.

My, how the times have changed. We've come a long way since Harry Truman played the piano at the National Press Club in Washington with Lauren Bacall arrayed seductively above him atop the upright. When Bess caught him in the black-and-white photograph on the front page of the newspaper the next morning she was not amused. She told him sternly there would be no more public piano recitals. It was the brief encounter at the Press Club, not the music, that was off-key. Harry got the message quickly enough. Bess, as the president was forever telling everyone, was "the boss."

Today it's easier for Mr. Obama to flirt with the ladies, parrying soft questions, than to submit to tougher stuff on Fox News Sunday, which displays the number of days, hours and minutes since he declined the network's invitation to take questions. Hillary Clinton submitted to the ordeal and fielded questions gamely. But who wouldn't rather take kisses from Miss Walters than an arm twisting from Chris Wallace?

Mr. Obama is clearly at ease, patting Joy Behar's arm resting on the back of the sofa they share. There are smiles all around, with little jokes, coquettish smiles warm bonhomie with lots of ladies legs on show. When Fritz Mondale introduced Geraldine Ferarro as his running mate a quarter of a century ago they stood awkwardly together, neither knowing exactly how to script the body language. …