Friday, September 17, 2004

The Election Is in the Bag 

We have speculated before that the coming election may hinge less on the text (platforms, proposals, policies, etc.) than on the ubiquitous, unavoidable, but strangely underdiscussed subtext of the race, which is, of course, penility. Now Stephen A. Ducat, a Bay Area psychologist and student of all things testicular, has published The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, a book which purports to trace "the sometimes debilitating effects on U.S. politics and foreign policy of a 'femiphobic' masculinity" from the Reagan era onward:
"The Wimp Factor" suggests that American hyper-masculinity -- as seen in, but not limited to, the Bush administration, Christian fundamentalism and right-wing U.S. policy -- has created a contentious political landscape in which more and more men are becoming conservative. In campaign battles, politicians, meanwhile, "feminize" their opponents to establish macho credibility and call into question their opponents' manhood. (In his speech at the Republican convention, Vice President Dick Cheney told delegates that Kerry "talks about leading a 'more sensitive war on terror,' as though al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.")

Ducat said that men with the extreme type of masculinity afraid of characteristics traditionally considered feminine -- self-reflection, attunement to others, appreciation for human interrelatedness -- may become sociopaths: those possessed of a guilt-free capacity to hurt others for personal gain.

"The Bush administration is the most sociopathic American administration in my lifetime," Ducat said, citing the administration's unilateral assault on Iraq and, leading up to it, apparent falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi ties to al Qaeda.

Ducat has divided the book into chapters examining cultural socialization of young males; the history of maleness in American politics; George H.W. Bush's so-called wimp factor; the hyper-masculine male's terror of women he sees as "castrating" (think Hillary Rodham Clinton); how Bill Clinton, perceived as submissive to Hillary, was "re-masculinized" by the Monica Lewinsky affair; the ways working-class men sabotage their self-interest by voting Republican; and how gender considerations have affected the post-Sept. 11 era, including in the Iraq conflict. Along the way, Ducat explicates concepts such as the mythical phallus and the gender gap in American politics since Ronald Reagan's 1980 election . . . .

Yet George W. Bush's macho posturing is essentially empty, Ducat contends. That vacuity was most plainly exemplified by the infamous May 1, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" photo opportunity, in which the president declared an end to combat in Iraq.

Bush, whose fighter-pilot father had been shot from the sky in World War II, and who himself had avoided service in Vietnam by serving in the National Guard, was a passenger in an Air Force jet that roared onto the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln. He strutted across the carrier in a green flight suit, the snug harnesses of which accentuated his groin. (In "The Wimp Factor," Ducat quotes former Nixon White House heavy and right-wing and radio personality G. Gordon Liddy gushing about the presidential package on Chris Matthews' May 8, 2003 "Hardball": "Check that out ... what a stud.")

Ducat calls the photo opportunity "a masculine drag performance," and says it was "an assertion of the superficial as enough. 'Hey, we got rid of Saddam, there's nothing left to do but celebrate our wisdom and our power. It's party time.' It was a massive denial of reality."
Ducat, whose dissertation was published as Taken In: American Gullibility and the Reagan Mythos, says that the source of his greatest despair was "the gullibility of Americans and their capacity to go against their own self-interest . . . . [yet] the very phenomenon that made me despair piqued my curiosity -- and re- politicized me."

 Posted by Hello
(The collectible action figure depicted in the photo above is, we're told, sold out, but if your youngster absolutely insists on having a Bush to play with, here's a substitute model that comes with the full endorsement of Zemblan patriot J.D.)

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