A HUG LAUNCHES SEARCH
FOR POP CULTURE'S HEROES

By Jeff Zaslow

It was a hot day many years ago., You were thirsty, so you bought a Pepsi, took a swig, and then you said "You've got the right one, baby." After you swallowed, you issued a burp that sounded like “Uh huh!”

This was years before Ray Charles cashed in with the same sentiment. Now you're kicking yourself, knowing that you coined a phrase that many Americans can't get out of their heads without surgery.

Think back. There may be other omnipresent slogans, trends or cultural fads that you thought of first and aren't getting proper credit for.

Just days ago, a fellow named Jeffrey Sussman was like you - too bashful to take credit for something that he brought to the world. But now Sussman has stepped forward to accept our applause. You can, too.

Sussman is a New York public relations marketing man who sometimes calls me seeking publicity for his clients. But now, he is publicizing himself. He has issued a press release: "THE CLINTON HUG STARTED BY N.Y. PR MAN."

"Remember all the hugging by President Clinton at the inauguration?" the release asks. "Who planted the idea? Who started the chain reaction of all those televised hugs?"

Who? Sussman.

It turns out that last year, he was in a line of everyday New Yorkers waiting to meet candidate Clinton. Everyone else shook Clinton's hand politely. But Sussman gave him a warm hug.

"He hugged me back," Sussman recalls. "He gave me a little perfunctory hug.” But Sussman could tell Clinton was moved. "It must have impressed him," says Sussman, "because he started hugging all those other people in Washington."

Isn't it possible that Clinton's propensity for hugging began long before Sussman came into his life? “Of course, it is,” Sussman allows. "But I'm claiming I gave him the idea. Why? Because I'm a PR man."

Sussman says he's tired of living in the background, pushing other people's achievements. "I want to come into the foreground," he says.

And what does he want for giving Clinton the hug idea? "A presidential award would be nice," says Sussman. "A Medal of Freedom. Whatever. Clinton really does know how to feel people's pain." Sussman says, "He may even be able to hug away their pain. I think he should forget about making promises he may not be able to keep. Instead, he should devote every Wednesday to hugging whoever feels sad or depressed. They could come to Washington, stand around in the Rose Garden for a while, get a really good hug, then go home feeling terrific.
"A weekly presidential hug could go a long way to alleviating the nation's problems, giving people a sense of being loved, valued, appreciated and all that other good psychological stuff."