About that cleavage

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 showing cleavage when she recently spoke on the Senate floor.

Ann Lewis, campaign official and signer of the letter, tells the Post’s ombudsman 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’s the letter’s point.

I would be delighted 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 decision to wear what she wore, 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 insufficient 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 covered flesh of that region, attired in something one might readily expect of Pamela Anderson, would commentary thereon have been tasteless, out of bounds?

Of course it would not have been. 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 could properly raise questions about the unusual or inordinate amount of flesh displayed — more specifically, the thinking or lack thereof behind it — without commenting on the flesh itself.

If George W. Bush started traipsing around in gaping shirts showing chest hair, 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. But that hasn’t stopped Edwards, a la Hillary, from trying to raise money with his own letters deploring that the media supposedly have been unfair to him by emphasizing such silliness as his hair.

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 any of the rest, and I ought to be ashamed.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

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