Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wimp factor?

Ah, ironies upon ironies!

A woman competing in a testosterone infused environment, Hillary Clinton saw the need to demonstrate her, ah, manliness. It was that need more than anything else, I believe, that led her to vote in favor of authorizing GWB to invade Iraq. After all, saber rattling is a very manly activity, and those who demur might be considered, well, effeminate. We can't have some pansy leading the Free World, now -- can we?

And so Hillary never missed an opportunity to demonstrate that her lack of literal balls should not be construed as a lack of figurative balls. Yes, her political posturing did help to encourage the widespread suspicion that she might be a lesbian, but there was no helping that -- not if she ever was going to get a shot at the presidency.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, should have had the manliness thing sewn up. After all, in popular culture the black male is the very embodiment of unbridled male hormones. His problem, though, was exactly that -- our popularly conceived black man is entirely too scary to be elected President of the Harvard Law Review, much less President of the United States.

Obama found it necessary to cultivate his public image just as carefully as Clinton cultivated hers, except from an opposite perspective. He had to learn to be consistently calm, even tempered, and conciliatory. He had to eliminate any show of anger or aggression from his behavioral repertoire. Barack had to appear as "un-black" as Hillary appeared "un-feminine."

The result, as you must have noticed, is that Hillary out-machos Barack by a factor of three to one. She knocks back shots of whiskey while he's counting calories. I don't know if she could beat his bowling score, but now she doesn't even have to try. She even came up with a scenario for nuking Iran -- granted, a pretty far-fetched scenario where Iran nukes Israel first, but clearly that makes her a mensch. That schmekele Barack, though, won't even talk tough to Ahmedinijad. As it begins to look more and more like he'll be the Democratic candidate this Fall, Obama had better start dealing with what could be a serious problem.

It's commonly called "the wimp factor." Although the term was first used to accompany a photo of Bush Senior on the cover of Newsday in 1989, it's been a problem for many Democrats in the past. Think of Dukakis in the tank, Kerry windsurfing, even Adlai Stevenson offering his brilliant, intellectual analyses while the rest of America was chanting "I like Ike." Now think of how the press jumped all over Obama's allegedly "elitist" comments about the white working class from that speech he delivered in San Francisco last month.

Let's face it: there's nobody left in the United States who's really concerned about Barack Obama turning out to be a violent, gun toting mugger intent on raping white women. His real problem now is to start looking less like an Ivy League twit. It may not be easy, not after a lifetime of consciously assimilating himself to the culture of Ivy League twitdom, but it's something he must do -- and soon. He has to demonstrate that he is capable of real, down and dirty, testosterone laced aggression.

The fact is, though, that he can't demonstrate it against Hillary Clinton. A "real" man doesn't beat up on women -- not even women as formidable as Hillary. It's time for him to ignore Hillary (because real men are allowed to ignore women) and start consistently and systematically attacking John McCain. But how?

John McCain is not the sort of man who ever could be tarred with the brush of intellectualism. He has no connection to the Ivies, and graduated near the bottom of his class at West Point -- but that doesn't mean a populist attack on McCain can't work. McCain has flip-flopped like a beached mackerel since winning the Republican nomination. It shouldn't be hard to label McCain a sell-out -- a one-time maverick who's now in the pockets of the same mortgage bankers, oil company tycoons, and super-rich businessmen who are foreclosing, extorting, and cutting the jobs and wages of the rest of us.

The attacks should be personal, not generic. It's not enough to attack the financial elite -- Obama has to put aside his fastidious good manners and attack McCain himself. He has to forget all about McCain's war record and his age and anything else that might make him pull his punches. With luck, McCain even might lose his famous temper and say something stupid.

It's also time for Obama to drop the high-falutin' oratory about "coming together" and upgrading American political discourse. He's already cornered the market on what Bush Senior, in that same 1989 election, called "the vision thing," so it's time to move on. You can bet the Republican attack machine's political discourse will be just as brutal as it's ever been, and the only way to beat it is with a strong offensive.

Don't be a wimp, Barack. Hit hard, and hit now.

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