A ‘Masculine’ Debate? Seriously?

Megan McCardle and Mark Kleiman have been discussing on their respective blogs whether Barack Obama will be seen as “masculine” enough when pitted against John McCain for the general election. Kleiman thinks that Obama will come off as “more manly” than McCain because he’s black and plays basketball. McCardle isn’t so sure, because he thinks that Obama is taking the “woman’s role” in the campaign:

On the one hand he’s tall, but he’s kind of, well, scrawny looking. But also, the political space I think he’s trying to occupy — building understanding and reconciliation between hostile voter grops — is generally seen as a woman’s role. And he’s running against a much-decorated fighter pilot renowned for chasing women until his walker started getting in the way.

This isn’t the first time that this issue has been brought up on the blogs, and it never ceases to make me shake my head in genuine bewilderment. First off, I don’t see why political pundits seriously waste their time with this kind of trite banality, such as this “masculinity” discussion, or the first half or so of Wednesday night’s Obama-Clinton debate. These issues are circular — they are campaign issues because they are discussed by the media and the punditry, and they are discussed by the media and the punditry because they are campaign issues. It’s tiresome.

Equally bewildering, though, is how the discussions about “masculinity” in this campaign are not actually about “manliness”, but rather about a high-school jock mentality. Nobody in the media seems to question John McCain’s “masculinity” because, according to the media’s picture of him, he likes to get into fights, chases skirts, lacks tact, brags about his military service, and has a nasty temper. To which I say only goes to show how far our ideas about how a man should behave have degraded. Apparently, humility, quiet dignity, being faithful to one’s spouse and a desire to avoid violence are seen as “un-manly.” Which says a lot about our virtues as a people. Not good things, to be sure. But it’s definitely revealing.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Gender Issues, National Security, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    I think McCain’s considered manly because he’s a war hero who exhibited great courage under extreme duress and because of the whole “maverick” thing, not because of his brashness. It has never occurred to me, prior to this mention, however, that Obama was insufficiently manly to be president.

    Then again, we have this debate every so often. Goodness, President Bush the Elder, who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as the youngest pilot in the United States Navy during WWII, had to contend with the “wimp factor” because his voice is insufficiently deep.

  2. Bithead says:

    And where are the questions, then, about Hillary Clinton’s masculinity?

    (/snark)

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I honestly don’t see how Mark can post on that subject while commenting even mildly negatively on the debate last night without his head spinning off.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    Alex, I think you are being a bit hypocritical. You were bashing McCain about people associated with his campaign. Then the Wright stuff came out and you sanctimoniously said that stuff shouldn’t matter and tried to call back the slander after the attack against McCain had taken place. Now you just want to sweep it all under the carpet and have it ignored because you “find it tiresome”.

    You are not dealing with reality if you think questions like those asked at the debate are not going to be a factor in the general election. You were happy enough to engage in it when you thought it would hurt McCain, but now you just find such questions ‘tiresome’. Get real.

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    yetanotherjohn,

    I was wrong then. Simple enough. So having realized that I was wrong, I have decided to remain consistent.

    Believe me, if I wanted to go after McCain for petty personal issues that have no real bearing on whether he’d make a good President, there are issues a-plenty. I simply have no desire to go that route. I think that his record as a politician provides plenty of reason not to vote for him–especially for a libertarian like myself.

  6. Bithead says:

    The problem, Alex, is that the questions you find so tiresome, a goodly portion of the American electorate considers to be quetions bearing on character, and thereby quite important.

    I suspect and suppose that your objection has as much to do with who is basing asked such questions. Allow me to illustrate;

    Postulate John McCain being to be known to be sitting in a church for 20 years, pouring large amounts of money into the place, when it was run by a screaming racist.

    Postulate further him associating with, say anti-abortion terrorists, who are known to have bombed buildings of the federal government and killed people in the process.

    Do you consider for even a split second that you’d call such issues ‘petty and personal’?

  7. Bithead says:

    Oh, and as for the issue of how masculine he is, and the questions about that, let’s also consider the idea that most elections have at least a large element of psychological playtime in them.

    Such issues, as you doubtless know, give us a better mental picture of who the person is we’re electing, and in many ways are equally important to the candidate’s stands on the issues of the day, since the psychological makeup of the person under scrutiny actually determines to a large degree, what their stands on the various issues will be.

    And guess what… Democrats know this too. What else would Dukakis be doing in a tank, but doing his “I’m an alpha male’ routine?

  8. Sean says:

    According to Glenn Greenwald: What matters is that Democrats and liberals are weak, effete, elitist, nerdy, military-hating, gender-confused losers, whose men are effeminate, whose women are emasculating dykes, and who merit sneering mockery and derision. Republican right-wing male leaders are salt-of-the-earth, wholesome, likable tough guys — courageous warriors and normal family men who merit personal admiration and affection.

  9. Tad says:

    Not that it matters really but I’ve never considered Megan a Political pundit. She regularly puts up posts that are merely thoughts and short tidbits.

    That said the post did strike me as ‘off’, but not quite as ‘off’ as her thoughts on downloading yourself into a robot brain…

    http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/04/debate_of_the_day.php

    But then I could hardly care less what she thinks of politics and robots as she openly claims to know little about either. Now economics and libertarian rants are another thing all together.

  10. Pug says:

    The problem, Alex, is that the questions you find so tiresome, a goodly portion of the American electorate considers to be quetions bearing on character, and thereby quite important.

    Postulate John McCain being asked in a presidential debate about his wife’s drug addiction and her theft of drugs from a charity (for Christ’s sake). After all, you are known by those with whom you associate and McCain is much more closely associated with Cindy than Obama’s tenuous connection to William Ayers.

    Republican right-wing male leaders are salt-of-the-earth, wholesome, likable tough guys — courageous warriors and normal family men who merit personal admiration and affection.

    Well, they do put yellow ribbons on their SUV’s and wear American flag pins. That’s pretty manly.

  11. Richard Jacobs says:

    Well, what do you expect for today’s excuse for media news. These two idiots are par for the course.

  12. Alex Knapp says:

    Bithead,

    I have yet, to date, read any statement by Obama’s Rev. Wright that can be justly characterized as racist. The Church he ran had lots of members of all races, which you can see if you watch the videos of his sermons when they pan to the audience. Were there things that Wright said that I disagreed with? Sure. But then, I don’t consider myself a Christian, so my level of disagreement with any preacher is going to be pretty high.

    As for Ayres, I honestly don’t know enough about the situation to make a judgment, except for a general comment that politics frequently requires one to deal with influential but morally suspect people in order to get anything done.

    You could easily slam McCain’s character on similar grounds–his involvement with the Keating Five; his adultery; his sharing the stage with controversial preachers; etc. But what’s the point? It doesn’t really tell you all that much.

    My bigger beefs with McCain are his foreign policy positions and his unwillingness to stick up for his own political convictions (see e.g. backing down on forbidding the CIA from committing acts of torture), and both say a lot more about what kind of President he would make than, say, his wife’s drug use.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    Bithead,

    Oh, and as for the issue of how masculine he is, and the questions about that, let’s also consider the idea that most elections have at least a large element of psychological playtime in them.

    And my response to that is that what the media considers “masculine”, I consider “immature high school jock”, so there’s that.

    A terrific illustration of true manliness vs. macho posturing was on display in last week’s episode of John Adams, which dramatized Adams’ rightful castigation of Alexander Hamilton for the latter’s dreams of empire and desire to look good in uniform. John Adams was a much better symbol of manly virtue.

  14. bob in fla says:

    Speaking of appearing masculine, Alex. Since when has Megan been a “he”, as you referred to her?

    As for her column, just one more example of Mc Megan’s hackery.

  15. floyd says:

    Thanks Sean!

  16. floyd says:

    “”But then, I don’t consider myself a Christian, so my level of disagreement with any preacher is going to be pretty high.””

    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Alex;
    I am a Christian, and at times even a contrarian like yourself, but I find that I have many issues in which I agree with Hindus,Secularists, Buddhists, and other religious types!
    Being human produces more common ground than some might think.
    The disagreements, though important,are relatively few actually.

  17. Elmo says:

    History has pounded into my head that Kennedy beat Nixon, because Nixon beat himself. Forgoing makeup, for their first live televised debate. Already being pale and haggard, from recent hospitalization, with Kennedy being tan and rested, having just returned from vacation.

    And is pretty much the same reaction I had, in the recent McCain skoyt chasin’ flap. When seeing Johnnie Mac simply looking beat, on day two of the story’s cycle. And thus myself, calling the contest then and there.

    I haven’t watched the Obama bowling video, but I have watched his dancin’ with Ellen vid. November is really such a long ways away. My reaction/prognostication to/about a single Mac TV appearance, now appears to be overweighted. Mac does indeed appear to be in the hunt. Now whether it be because Barry can’t dance (or bowl)? Some things defy logic and reason. November 4th may yet be an education.

  18. Bithead says:

    I have yet, to date, read any statement by Obama’s Rev. Wright that can be justly characterized as racist.

    Really? Perhaps your measurement is skewed.
    Try reversing some of these statements of his. Attribute them to David Duke. Think they’re still not racist?

    As for Ayres, I honestly don’t know enough about the situation to make a judgment, except for a general comment that politics frequently requires one to deal with influential but morally suspect people in order to get anything done.

    Particularly if you’re a Democrat? And don’t you think that’s something you’d better learn, before voting for the man, Alex?

    And my response to that is that what the media considers “masculine”, I consider “immature high school jock”, so there’s that

    This is such a target rich environment, I’m not even going to bother. I suspect the readers can fill in the blanks themselves.

  19. Alex Knapp says:

    Try reversing some of these statements of his. Attribute them to David Duke. Think they’re still not racist?

    Such as….. ?

    Particularly if you’re a Democrat? And don’t you think that’s something you’d better learn, before voting for the man, Alex?

    John McCain had a long political relationship with Strom Thurmond, who never apologized for his role in fighting for segregation. Should I assume by that that John McCain is a segregationist? Don’t be absurd. It was simply necessary to work with Thurmond to get anything done in the Senate. Obama’s association with Ayres doesn’t even compare. He went to a fundraiser that Ayres was at, therefore Obama supporters terrorism? Please. That’s just a pathetic line of reasoning.

  20. Bithead says:

    Have you looked at Black Liberation theology, which Wright preaches?

    Barack Obama’s suddenly radioactive pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has defended himself against charges of anti-Americanism and racism by referring to his foundational philosophy, the “black liberation theology” of scholars such as James Cone, who regard Jesus Christ as a “black messiah” and blacks as “the chosen people” who will only accept a god who assists their aim of destroying the “white enemy.”

    “If God is not for us and against white people,” writes Cone, “then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill gods who do not belong to the black community.”

    Now again, let’s get Duke to start preaching WHITE liberation theorlgy and see if you don’t label it as racist.

    John McCain had a long political relationship with Strom Thurmond, who never apologized for his role in fighting for segregation. Should I assume by that that John McCain is a segregationist?

    Most people would at least raise serious questions about his position in the matter. And by the way, a goodly number of blacks apparently did just that, given the exit poll data I’ve seen for that cycle.

    And Alex, this is far more than one appearence, we’re talking about, and you know it, or you should.

  21. Alex Knapp says:

    Have you looked at Black Liberation theology, which Wright preaches?

    Do you have a source for the document quoted? I accept, based on what you have written, that Mr. Cone is a racist. Do you have any actual quotes from Rev. Wright that, within the context of the quote supports any type of racist sentiment? Because if you don’t, smearing him as a racist is unjustified.

    And Alex, this is far more than one appearence, we’re talking about, and you know it, or you should.

    I understand that they served on some type of community board together. But then again, John McCain and Robert Byrd served in the Senate together. Does that make John McCain a Klansman? Try again.

  22. Bithead says:

    Do you have a source for the document quoted? I accept, based on what you have written, that Mr. Cone is a racist. Do you have any actual quotes from Rev. Wright that, within the context of the quote supports any type of racist sentiment? Because if you don’t, smearing him as a racist is unjustified.

    Let me make sure I understand this; Your dispute here is on the question if Wright is preaching Black Liberation theorlogy, or not?

    I understand that they served on some type of community board together. But then again, John McCain and Robert Byrd served in the Senate together. Does that make John McCain a Klansman? Try again.

    Byrd renounced his past. Even absent the argument about his honesty in the matter, we’re still left with a major difference…He’s renounced that past. Has Ayersrenounced HIS? No, he’s sorry he didn’t do more.

    Try again.

  23. Alex Knapp says:

    Let me make sure I understand this; Your dispute here is on the question if Wright is preaching Black Liberation theorlogy, or not?

    What I want to know is, is there any record of Rev. Wright contextually making any racist remarks? A quote, with source. Video. Anything? After all, John McCain, not his preacher, is actually on the record of routinely employing racial slurs against the Vietnamese in the past, without apology:

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/hongop.shtml

    Do you have any similar record for Rev. Wright?

    Byrd renounced his past. Even absent the argument about his honesty in the matter, we’re still left with a major difference…He’s renounced that past. Has Ayersrenounced HIS? No, he’s sorry he didn’t do more.

    I’m not disputing that Ayres is a nasty little man. My question is, is Obama responsible for Ayres actions just because they were on the same board of the same non-profit organization? Let’s say, for sake of argument, that Robert Byrd never renounced his racist past (as, indeed, Strom Thurmond never did). Would that mean that every U.S. Senator should have refused to serve on the same Senate committee as Byrd?

  24. Bithead says:

    What I want to know is, is there any record of Rev. Wright contextually making any racist remarks?

    I would say that support fo Black Liberation theorlogy, a position which Wright is known to hold, would qualify him, no?

    I’m not disputing that Ayres is a nasty little man. My question is, is Obama responsible for Ayres actions just because they were on the same board of the same non-profit organization?

    No, Obama IS, however, responsible for speaking up against that sitation. But apparently he feels quite comfortable dealwing the unrepenatnt bombers, and peopel who think as a part of their religion, that America as such, much be destroyed.

  25. Alex Knapp says:

    I would say that support fo Black Liberation theorlogy, a position which Wright is known to hold, would qualify him, no?

    But you haven’t provided any evidence that Wright supports all aspects of Black Liberation theology. Is there any record of Rev. Wright himself saying that he adheres to all aspects of the philosophy, including the racist stuff? Where’s your proof? Your assertion is akin to claiming that a politician is opposed to the death penalty simply because he is Catholic, without regard for whether the politician himself has gone on the record as opposing the death penalty.

    I ask again–can you provide any contextual statements in which the Rev. Wright has expressed racist sentiments?

    No, Obama IS, however, responsible for speaking up against that sitation.

    So John McCain should have spoken out against the situation of Strom Thurmond’s continued terms in the Senate?