Proudly presenting this article in WELT from Jeffrey Gedmin. Posting was delayed because of a business trip I took in early November.
Sex and Power and Prudery
By Jeffrey Gedmin
In the film „Thank you for Smoking,” chief tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor laments at one point Hollywood’s dreadful political correctness. These days, complains Nick, the only people you see smoking in movies are either psychopaths or Europeans. Like Nick Naylor, many Europeans think we Americans have become fanatical in our anti-smoking crusade. I hear it time and again. We Americans are boring, we’re moralistic, puritanical. Think sex. The bewilderment over American prudishness never seems to end.
It is bewildering. Sex has become predictably a part of the Congressional elections. Most recently, Senator George Allen of Virginia has accused his Democrat opponent of
having steamy scenes in his novels. I have not read any of the books in question, but author Jim Webb is not exactly what you would call a racy figure. His politics are pretty main stream. He served in a senior position at the Pentagon under Ronald Reagan. Webb has responded to Allen as any American politician would do. He has counter-attacked by pointing out steaming sex scenes in novels by Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libbey--and Cheney’s own wife, Lynne! Mrs. Cheney, a professor who specialized in 19th British literature, published a 1981 novel titled “Sisters” in which, apparently, lesbian scenes occur. I have not read “Sisters” either, but Mrs. Cheney, whose daughter Mary happens to be gay, says Jim Webb is “full of baloney.” The book is out of print, but this has not stopped reporters from securing scarce copies to find out who is full of what. CNN reports clues on pages 127-128. No one ever said an American election was an elegant affair.
I guess we are, by European standards, a bit prudish. A friend who manages a fitness centre in Berlin tells me that a common customer complaint is that American members insist on going into the sauna with their bathing suits on. Americans who travel to Europe for the first time are often surprised (and men charmed) to find out that women bathe topless at the beach. The first sex scandal of the current political season began with Congressman Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida. The problem for Foley was not that he was gay, as some have suggested here. Foley was writing sexually explicit emails and sms messages to underage male interns, something which would presumably be frowned upon in Germany. Anyway, we’ve done gay. In 1989, Barney Frank, one of two openly gay members of Congress at the time, became involved in a scandal stemming from Frank’s liaisons with a male prostitute. Frank never lost his seat. Today, 33 of 50 states have elected leaders who are openly gay or lesbian. Prominent cities like Palm Springs and Providence are led by gay mayors. I wonder how many people know that George W. Bush, while being against gay marriage--a perennial election theme --does not oppose same sex civil unions.
The country that has given the world Howard Stern--surely the most sexually explicit radio broadcasters on the planet--is shocked by Beate Uhse sex shops. The same people who help “Hooters” to flourish, a popular chain of family restaurants where scantily clad, large breasted women serve cheeseburgers (“hooters” is slang for breasts), opened their newspapers recently to learn that a Texas art teacher had been dismissed. The teacher was an award-winning 28-year classroom veteran. The reason for her dismissal? She took her students to the well-respected Dallas Museum of Art museum where a nude sculpture was on display.