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Emasculation proclamation

Is Barack Obama in danger of being outmanned?
By STEVEN STARK  |  April 30, 2008


Though the press and Barack Obama supporters often maintain the opposite, by the rough-and-tumble standards of American politics, Hillary Clinton really hasn’t run that tough a campaign against the Illinois senator. She’s broadcast very few negative ads. Her critiques, until recently, have focused primarily on Obama’s electability. Her husband’s attacks on her opponent have mostly backfired, generating far more negative reaction than positive. In fact, most of Obama’s problems on the campaign trail have come from stories emanating from the press — the Jeremiah Wright controversy and his own remarks before supporters in San Francisco being two examples. And, of course, Obama keeps losing key primaries, which isn’t doing him any favors.

But there is one Clinton line of attack that does have the potential to seriously undermine the Obama effort. She has begun to try to emasculate Obama — portraying him, in so many words, as a wimp.

Look at the recent poses Clinton has adopted: she downs drinks at a bar, wields baseball bats at rallies, and constantly uses the combative metaphors of sports. She demands more debates, while Obama ducks them. Her most successful negative ad (the “3 am” commercial) accuses Obama of not being able to keep us safe, which is, after all, the traditional male role.

In contrast, while Clinton wants to keep fighting, Obama speaks of a politics of peace — both literally in Iraq and at home with an end to partisanship. He’s never had any relationship with the military and, when it comes to sports, er, even though he’s claimed he could dunk in high school, and he did work out with the University of North Carolina men’s hoops team this week, he bowled that disastrous, gutter-ball-plagued 37.

Given the history of American politics, this is not a helpful trend for Obama, especially since, in his autumn effort to become our next commander in chief, he’ll be going up against a war hero.

Boys’ club
Like it or not, there’s always been a strong macho element to American politics. It began, naturally, in the days when women couldn’t vote, voting often took place in saloons, and participatory politics bore more than a passing resemblance to spectator sports. Thus, as early as 1824, partisans of Andrew Jackson were criticizing the supposed effeminacy of John Quincy Adams, a line of attack that continued in another form against Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, in 1840, where he was portrayed as “Little Van — the used up man.” (His sin was that he enjoyed fancy clothes and taking baths — indicating, if nothing else, that Americans have always enjoyed focusing on a kind of personal politics that the present Democratic front-runner seems to find distasteful.)

Things have changed since then, but despite women’s suffrage and the feminist movement, they haven’t changed all that much. George Washington (the father of the country — we presumably didn’t need a mother) began the trend that military service and heroism are helpful prerequisites for the presidency, and they still are. Remember that Bill Clinton was the first candidate since Calvin Coolidge elected to the presidency without any kind of military service or connection to a war effort. Still, distasteful as it may seem, he was able to secure his masculine street cred through his well-publicized “eye for the ladies” — a trait that many thought would wreck his candidacy but also enabled him to overcome doubts about his “softness.”

Which brings us back to Obama. It’s true that American culture and politics are changing, and that Obama may be the harbinger of not only a biracial but a “feminizing” trend, brought on by the huge gender shifts in American life. Still, that feminizing of our politics is likely to be welcomed far more by the young than the old, which helps explain, again, why Obama appeals so much less to elderly voters than to the young.

So doubts about a candidate’s masculinity would spell trouble regardless of the opponent. But it’s especially problematic when, well, it's a woman who’s pointing out what a wimp you’ve become. There is a well-accepted role in American life for the “tomboy” — a role, say, inhabited in pop culture by Seinfeld’s Elaine — the girl who loves hanging out in the boy’s gang. Clinton has more than willingly stepped into it.

But there isn’t a comparable role in our culture for the boy who hangs out with the girls and possesses “feminine” values, or at least one who wants to do that and be the leader of all the guys in the free world, too. Obama hasn’t goofily tried to ride a tank, thank goodness. But every day now, Clinton is on the stump, pointing out that, in metaphorical terms, Obama’s 37 wasn’t just a bad bowling score — it was a character flaw that should preclude him from becoming president. This Clinton strategy poses a question: yes, boys will be boys, but when they’re not 100 percent all-boy, can they still be elected president?


The nominee


Odds: 1-5 | past week: same
Odds: 5-1 | same


Pledged: 1489
Superdelegates: 240
Total: 1729
Short by: 295

Superdelegates: 261
Total: 1594
Short by: 430

Delegates needed to win: 2024

On the Web
The Presidential Tote Board blog: //

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Emasculation proclamation
Obama may well have nothing to lose by running with Clinton. His electoral base will increase exponentially during the interim between 2008 and 2012-16, and he will set down roots and make killer connections. All told, when he finally makes it as commander in chief, he will have had 12-16 years in the White House, perhaps achieving in the end double what he could have otherwise. He's a winner and he can't lose.
By gordon on 05/01/2008 at 5:54:13
Emasculation proclamation
Talk about role reversal! Hillary is more masculine than Barack while Barack is more feminine than Hillary. Hillary represents the modern American woman who climbs the rungs on the corporate career ladder doing whatever it takes to get ahead. In her case, it's putting up with a serial philanderer in exchange for his granting her access to the corridors of power and conference rooms in Little Rock and Washington. In her rise, she "identified with the aggressor" and adopted as her own many masculine traits that are now evident in her campaign. Barack's life from birth to present -- from 1961 on -- has seen the typified American male go from being a rock-solid, tradition-directed and sexually straight good provider and good citizen to the Peacock Revoution of the late 1960s when men began to indulge what was in prior years called "the dandy" in themselves. The feminization of the American male, including the metrosexual phase and the undignified and disrespectful so-called "girlie-man" mannerisms all have occured in Barack's lifetime. The end of the military draft in 1970 or so took away from the male a rite-of-passage in going from boyhood to manhood. Perpetual adolescence may well have been a result. A lawyer, Barack is more mediator than litigator. Underwhelming, not overwhelming. Seductive, not domineering. Comfortable in expressing his feelings. While many women are comfortable with Barack, many men are not as he threatens the male role as traditionally defined. All well and good. Standing in the opposite corner is one John McCain -- Machine Gun McCain -- as tradition-directed as they come, third generation Annapolis grad, decorated war hero, a "man's man" he'd be called in an earlier time. The 2008 election provides the first clear liberal-conservative choice since Johnson-Goldwater in 1964 if not Carter-Reagan in 1980. Yet, cultural changes and challenges -- building up as they have for years -- may well influence the voter in his/her choice.
By L-J on 05/02/2008 at 8:21:18
Emasculation proclamation
Simply to clarify above comments. The term "girlie-man" - - as spoken with derision by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 2004 Republican National Convention with Rudy Giuliani shown chuckling along - - is meant by its user to be disrespectful and disparaging.
By L-J on 05/02/2008 at 4:05:33
Emasculation proclamation
It may be that, for all her machismo, Clinton is just the picador for "No Drama Obama." Clinton will tire herself out, while Obama charges forth with restored energy into the small of the Republican back.
By gordon on 05/02/2008 at 10:55:26
Emasculation proclamation
The question Indiana voters have to ask themselves is, do they want to take away the black man's birthright for a thirty-dollar gift certificate to the Exxon convenience store--a pack of cigarettes, a liter of Reunite, a Slim Jim, a pint of Ben and Jerry's, a nickel and a dime for Jerry's kids--just enough for the city.
By gordon on 05/06/2008 at 4:47:55
Emasculation proclamation
With the dust settling in North Carolina and Indiana, a most disturbing and continuing occurrence is the racial divide among primary voters. If'n I 'member rightly, Obama's early primary victories had his getting around 60% of the Black American vote. Now, it's over 90%. Clinton, more and more, is the candidate of the white working class. If bridges are not soon built between the two, the growing and embittering division could spell doom for the Democrats in November.
By L-J on 05/07/2008 at 5:40:16

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