Who the Man?

The Democrats scramble to find a scream-proof alpha

Women are caught in a comparable bind. If they talk tough, they can seem terrifying. Carol Moseley Braun did pretty well at avoiding that trap, but it remains to be seen whether a well-financed female contender such as Hillary Clinton can overcome the male panic she inspires. To good old boys, all she has to do is open her eyes wide and she looks like Dean at his most demento.

People don't vote on the basis of gender expectations alone, but the butch factor plays a much larger part in our politics than is usually acknowledged. In the age of Rummy, not to mention the Gropinator, there's no such thing as too much machismo in a pol. So who can blame the Democrats for manning up? For years now, their leaders have been tarred with the wuss brush very effectively by Republicans. If overcoming that liability means channeling the ghost of Evel Knievel, I say bring it on. But why does that seem presidential? Could Franklin Roosevelt compete today with a hunk on a Harley?

Call it a response to 9-11, a reaction to feminism, or show business taking over the world. But the kitsch of masculinity—the studwear, the Clint Eastwood stare, the programmed finger-stabbing dare—has enormous credibility now. We are trusting our very lives to the man who makes the best action figure. That's a lot scarier than Howard Dean at his screamiest.

Research assistance: Matthew Phillp

« Previous Page