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. OK, it may have been your grandfather’s idea of elegance shiny, mothball-smelling tuxes and glazed denture smiles but it was certainly a change. From 1989-1993, George Bush Sr. exuded a casual richness, rather like the goofy blue-blood airs of the father of the Jon Lovitz character in the animated series “The Critic.”
And then there was Bill Clinton, who fused politics and pop culture more effusively than any president before him. Like a kid who got Warren Beatty’s Rolodex for Christmas, he turned D.C. into a Hollywood East 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, the first clue may come in George W.’s like-father, like-son name. The Bushs are dynastically-minded. And as liberals bow to the ’60s and ’70s as their decades of cultural reference, the Bush reference points were the 1980s: Ronald Reagan and George Sr. 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, 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-’60s.
And the ’80s are when George W. came into his own. The first half of the decade were his wilderness years, a long lost weekend as a frat-boy scion of the Bush family. But midway through the decade he hit forty, discovered Jesus and became John Quincy Adams-in-waiting. It’s an era he understands and cherishes.
Then there’s Texas. Unlike the Massachusetts-Connecticut-Maine Ivy League preppiness of George Sr., Dubya grew up in the Texan oil town that his father chose as a profitable base in the ’50s and ’60s. 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 Connecticut meets “Dallas” meets “Dynasty” and you’ll have a clue what to expect.
Rubbing shoulder pads with Katherine Harris
The first harbinger of things to come in the New Dubya Order came in the person of Florida 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, then 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.
Yes, I envision a full-blown ’80s revival. Natural-looking hair? Gone. 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 later discovered to be D.C. aides to GOP Congressional leaders were all wearing duds from the LL Bean Urbane Anarchist Collection. Revolutionaries wearing khakis and loafers.
Ranchwear will be also stage a return. Levis, cowboy boots and big buckles. Twenty-gallon hats, accessorized if necessary, will be worn without a trace of irony, such as when Senate majority leader Trent Lott turned up at Bush’s ranch recently wearing his Stetson with a huge feather protruding from the hatband.
He was country when it wasn’t cool
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 has different tastes. A clue? His favorite book and TV movie of all time is “Lonesome Dove.” Consequently we will no longer see White House events attended by a procession of faces Streisand, Spielberg, Cruise and Hanks familiar from “Entertainment Tonight”
But Bush may 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 70s on your cable box. The Sci-Fi Channel and the Albanian Home Shopping Network have no place in Bush’s home. Watch for the nation to follow suit and return to family shows such as “Touched By An Angel.” A Michael Landon revival could 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 not that socially-conscious pap produced by Garth Brooks. Look for Merle Haggard, Brooks & Dunn and 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. For the record, Bush likes the doves he has shot grilled with bacon and jalapenos. And he eats them two at a time. No Lonesome Doves on Dubya’s platter.
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 not Cheney 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 cardiologists and Surgeon Generals whining about moderation. And even after his pre-election heart scare, Cheney was seen in post-election/pre-concession Washington wolfing down fried chicken while those around him nibbled on mesclun. Food indulgence will be back big-time.
Alcohol, however, will be another matter. With a President in the White House who has forsworn the demon drink, even a sip of sauvignon blanc is going to seem somewhat rude in Washington circles.
Big hair for the boys as well
Not that all this trendsetting necessarily takes a straight and narrow path. There is almost invariably always an ironic corollary to the trends set by the predilections of the President.
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 counter-culture phenomenoms as Kurt Cobain and Spike Lee.
Till then, get on your denims, crank up the Billy Ray Cyrus and practice line-dancing to “Achy Breaky Heart.”