From the pages of


Nouveau Gauche
by Martin Lewis
(First published December 23, 2000)

As the tension of the election is succeeded by the tedium of cabinet appointments, it is time to focus on the more important ramifications of the result. No, not that messy missile-defense stuff or whether George W. Bush is going to get along with Alan Greenspan. I'm referring, rather, to the matter of style. What changes in the way we dress and have fun are in the offing as Dubya loads up U-Haul One in preparation for his Washington Adventure?

It is undeniable that Presidents have an impact on the popular culture. There was Jack Kennedy, who led to the one-man destruction of the hat industry, and his wife, Jackie, who used the White House as a forum for various forms of art. In more recent times, the earnest style of Jimmy Carter gave way to the Reagan years and D.C. was instantly transformed into what style writers excitedly called an era of elegance. Admittedly this was your grandfather's elegance. Shiny mothball-smelling tuxes and glazed denture smiles. But it was certainly a change. In 1989-1992 Bush senior exuded a lazy richness - rather like the goofy blue-blood airs of the father of the Jon Lovitz character in the animated series "The Critic."

Bill Clinton fused politics and pop culture more effusively than any president before him. Like a kid who got Warren Beatty's Roladex for Christmas - he turned D.C. into Hollywood's "East Wing." And brought a People Magazine "Baby Boomer edition" quality to his presidency.

A whole lotta Texas, a pinch of preppiness

So what signs can we divine for the next four years? Well George W. Bush may have been blessed with a deeply unimaginative name by his dynastically-minded parents - but the clue to "Bush II - The Sequel Years" lies in his world view. As liberals bow to the 60's and 70's as their decades of cultural choice - to the true conservative the halcyon years were the 1980's. Ronald Reagan and George Bush at the helm. The end of all that hippy-dippy nonsense. A spirit of purpose and moral fiber. Yes there was that troublesome business of the national debt quadrupling, the unemployment soaring and the Iran-Contra scandal - but some people will always nit-pick. What truly mattered was that the very word "hippy" became an insult. Liberals were in full flight. It was the anti-60's.

George W. came into his own in the 80's. The first half of the decade were his heyday years as a frat-boy scion of the Bush family. Midway through the 80's he hit 40, discovered Jesus and became John Quincy Adams-in-waiting. So the 80's is an era he understands and cherishes.

(By the way - is there any good reason we all have to expel an extra syllable every time we say Dubya's name? George "Double-You" Bush is five syllables. If we call him "George Walker Bush" we could save an extra syllable. And with a possible recession looming - this could be a prudent saving of national resources.)

Then there's Texas. Unlike his casually patrician father with his Ivy League preppiness - Dubya grew up in the Texan oil bowl that his father chose as a profitable homebase in the 50's and 60's. Except for his sojourns at Yale and northeastern prep schools, the George W. taste is drawn from unapologetic Texan sensibilities. There's a certain swagger. Think "Dallas" meets "Dynasty" - and you'll have a clue what to expect. Not so much nouveau riche as nouveau gauche.

To those in the liberal, elitist media - this will be a return to appalling provincial clumsiness. Don't the Bushes understand anything? But then one faces the Herculean task of explaining bad taste to people who haven't got any.

Rubbing shoulder pads with Katherine Harris

The first harbinger of things to come in the New Dubya Order came from the emergence of Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris. From the moment she entered the national stage she became a divining rod of public taste. If you liked big hair, frosty blue eyeshadow and over-blushed cheeks - you were thrilled to see a woman so well-groomed. This is a woman who got her style clues from Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington. And moreover - didn't see anything wrong with it.

I envision a full-blown 80's revival. Natural-looking hair will be gone. I recommend that you invest in hair mousse futures. Women will be wearing those boxy power suits again. When one attends a Bush state dinner - one will be rubbing shoulder pads with the rich.

As for day-wear, "smart casual" will be the attire of choice. Those feisty Republicans who staged the Miami-Dade recount sit-in (who we later discovered were D.C. aides to GOP Congressional leaders) were all wearing duds from the LL Bean Urbane Anarchist Collection. Revolutionaries wearing khakis and loafers. The Sandanistas never looked this chic.

Ranchwear will also stage a return. Wranglers, cowboy boots and big buckles. Twenty gallon hats will be worn with no trace of irony. The sniggers will be saved for fashion faux pas such as Trent Lott recently wearing his stetson with a huge feather protruding from the hatband.

Dubya's drug of choice these days is another throwback to the 80's. It was in the shallow 80's that the daily workout replaced other more enjoyable habits for an entire generation. The endorphin high of mindless exercise became a ritual. Those who have blindly criticized Bush and referred to his lack of work ethic in the notoriously weak Texan governorship - have ignored the fact that this man takes a full hour every day at 12 noon to stretch himself on a Nordic Track machine.

This may lead to a reissue of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" - and to girls wearing those cute leggings over spandex again. So there are some bright shards amidst the gloom.

After the Clintons' embrace of Hollywood, movies are in for a rougher time. Bill Clinton may have endorsed such gritty films as "Sling Blade" and "Dead Man Walking." But Bush Junior has different tastes. A clue? His favorite book and TV movie of all time is "Lonesome Dove."

We will no longer see White House events attended by a procession of faces familiar from "Entertainment Tonight" such as Streisand, Spielberg, Cruise and Hanks. Instead we will see the welcome return of some unjustly overlooked thespians who many feel have been unfairly relegated to the "Where Are they Now?" shows. We will see more of Bo Derek (so memorable in "10" and "Orca: The Killer Whale") and GOP stalwart Erik Estrada (unforgettable in "CHiPs")

Bush may also be a godsend for the traditional broadcast networks. This is a man whose ideal weekend is on his Crawford ranch - which has no cable or satellite dish. Forget all those niche channels in the low 70's (on your cable box). The Food Network, Sci-Fi Channel and the Albanian Home Shopping Network have no place in Bush's home - and maybe the nation will follow suit - and return to watching family shows such as "Touched By An Angel" A Michael Landon revival may follow.

Music at the White House is also in for a change. No more Jon Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones etc. We are in for some serious country music. And I don't mean that socially-conscious pap produced by Garth Brooks. We're talking Brooks & Dunn and the aptly-named Travis Tritt.

Manly meals on the menu

Those who disdain the Californification of the nation's menus in recent years will be relieved. The President-elect is on record as citing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches among his favorite foods. He will also bring about a return to the manly caveman tradition of hunting down your own food. During the campaign he proudly talked of his joy in shooting doves. (An earlier version of this sport had been briefly popular in the 60's but died down after an excessive shooting incident in Ohio in 1970.)

For the record Bush likes his doves grilled with bacon and jalapenos. And he eats them two at a time. No Lonesome Doves on the Dubya platter.

If the above foods seem like spartan fare - after all there isn't much flesh on a dove - the nation may rest assured.

As with many things in this administration - the lead may well be taken by the new Vice-President. Dick Cheney is not one of those namby-pamby anti-gourmands. A lesser man might have been intimidated by those three earlier heart attacks he'd suffered. But Cheney showed true courage. In the space of the last five years, he fearlessly gained 40 pounds - displaying a trencherman's appetite for life and an admirable disdain for so-called experts such as cardiologists and Surgeons-General who whine about moderation. Naysayers snipe that it was easy for Cheney to gain that weight as the CEO of an oil company salting away hefty profits. But that is to demean his endeavors. Even after his post-election heart attack, Cheney was seen in pre-concession Washington wolfing down fried chicken while those around him nibbled on mesclun. Food indulgence will be back big time.

Drink however will be another matter. For some reason the American public still has no idea what has sustained Dubya's admirable 14 year abstinence from alcohol other than faith. Perhaps that's all he needs. But most recovering alcoholics enter a program of sorts. Alcoholics Anonymous for example provides a support mechanism for those trying to cure what many think is actually a life-long disease. If Bush finds the pressures of the Oval Office taking a toll - he could bring about the most striking change in tone in Washington. If he decides to attend AA meetings (I've checked - and there's a Wednesday 11am meeting just two blocks from the White House) THAT would revolutionize the entire town.

It's not impossible either. Hollywood in the 90's became an almost acetic town - with all the key players showing up at AA meetings. Deals got brokered over recitation of a few broken steps. AA meetings in D.C. could become THE place to make tax-cut deals and education voucher plans. And - unlike so many politicians - Bush has been among the very first to acknowledge that there is a Higher Power than himself.

Big hair for the boys as well

Not that all this trendsetting necessarily takes a straight and narrow path.There is almost invariably a corollary to all the trends set by the tastes and predilections of the President. A resonant response tends to spring up in the cultural ether as a reaction to whatever emanates from D.C. And it is often an ironic commentary on White House taste.

The puffed-up hair of the Reagan ladies was reflected in the hair of the metal bands such as Poison and Twisted Sister and new British Invaders such as Flock Of Seagulls and Duran Duran. (Of course a revival by any of those bands would be an international disaster.)

And the "Morning Again" spell cast by Ronald Reagan inspired such patriotic gems as the "Rambo" series of movies. Maybe John Rambo will come back one last time. And to give the film a topical twist - perhaps he will be parachuted into Iraq to find out why the pluperfect General Colin Powell was so utterly wrong in believing that he had decimated Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard military elite and rendered Saddam permanently crippled. Quite a few people have been wondering about that little mistake...

There were so many horrific trends thrown up in reaction to the Reagan-Bush years - that one wonders what else might emerge. Men wearing jacket sleeves pushed halfway up the arm - looking like refugees from Mr. Mister. Women with half-torn sweatshirts trying to look like Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance" (but lacking her gamine looks.) And everywhere the dreadful clang of bad bands.

The only truly positive culture to come out of the 80's was the backlash that finally swept it away like a cleansing flood of Noah-like proportions. Maybe this country NEEDS to suffer a Wang Chung revival ("Everybody Wang Chung Tonight") to appreciate what we lost. And to inspire the next generation of Kurt Cobains and Spike Lees.

Till then - get on your denims, crank up the Billy Ray Cyrus CD and practice line-dancing to "Achy Breaky Heart." It's going to be a long four years...


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