Where would the Republicans be without fear? They owe their success to their skill at stoking mass anxiety. Back in the ’80s, they played the race card very profitably. (Remember Bush père’s Willie Horton ads?) In the Clinton era they fed off white-male resentment, and in 2000 they wuss-baited Al Gore. These messages were rarely examined by respectable pundits, and as a result they went right to the subconscious, where they were free to operate. Bush fils won three-fifths of the white-male vote, in no small part because his surrogates managed to impugn Gore’s masculinity. This year, Kerry came equipped with war stories, hunting duds, and even a motorcycle. But with the selection of John Edwards as his running mate, the sissifying has returned.
Here’s Matt Drudge, who never fails to play the pansy card. Earlier this month he ran a whole photo gallery showing Kerry stroking Edwards and looking deeply into his eyes. “Can’t Keep Hands Off Each Other” read the accompanying headline. “Hugs, kisses to the cheek, affectionate touching of the face, caressing of the back, grabbing of the arm, fingers to the neck, rubbing of the knees.” You get the drift, Mary. No doubt these suspect poses had been planned by Kerry strategists out to construct a buddy film, but they played right into the homophobic hands of cluck-rakers like Drudge.
During the primaries, Republicans dubbed Edwards “the Breck girl.” Now they’re dissing his beamish features. “Not just another pretty face,” cracked John McCain, touting Dick Cheney at a Michigan rally last Friday. It was ominous to hear this allegedly gay-friendly pol hurl the oldest crypto-homo slur in the book by applying a feminizing term to Edwards. But McCain is subtle next to Arnold Schwarzenegger. On Saturday, the Governator described Democratic legislators holding up his budget as “girlie men.” In these gratuitous affronts, we can see how far the Republicans will go to prey on gender anxiety. What’s interesting is that the Kerry campaign doesn’t seem to mind being targeted.
“Look at those soft hands,” Big John remarked last week, in earshot of two Newsweek correspondents. He was tossing a football to Edwards across a table. “A good receiver,” Kerry quipped. The reporters noted that this was “a typical blend of bonhomie and competition” — in other words, butch banter in the Matt and Ben era. The combination of affection and winking rivalry is clearly calculated to appeal to women and the men who aren’t afraid of them. It evokes the subconscious image of a rangy president topping his vampy veep. Homoerotic? Yes. But in this election, when the consequences of Bush’s man show are clear, that could be a good thing.
Indeed, the more the Republicans sissify Edwards, the more people seem to like him. After all, he brings an element of libidinal delight to a race in which the only sex appeal is in casually uttered dirty words. True, the Bushies are angling for blond points with Jenna (her arrest record notwithstanding). But after all, it was women who kept Clinton in office despite the predations of those power-tied patriarchs. Edwards stands to inherit the Elvis cred, and if you’ve been reading Maureen Dowd lately in The New York Times, you can see how far beyond the South those pretty-boy pheromones radiate.
On the edge of this sexual terrain lies slash fiction, a form of online erotica with an often kinky flourish, much of it about sexy male stars or literary characters getting it on. The folks at fleshbot.com are on the lookout for “J^2 slash,” as well as “John-on-John morph porn.” They offer this helpful hint to Photoshoppers: “All signs point to Edwards as the bottom.” You don’t have to have a queer eye to find a cute guy with receptive vibes intriguing. Lots of women do.
Maybe I’ve got my head buried in the blue states. But I take heart in Wonkette’s reaction to this dewy-eyed team. She recently published what may be the most sought-after sub-rosa poster of the year. Under a shot of the honorable John was the slogan: “Edwards ’04. I’d fuck him.”
Here’s hoping he’s the people’s trick.
A Pox on Fox
Hot on the heels of Fahrenheit 9/11 comes another blistering doc: Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. This film is being screened for select blue-state audiences prior to a wider release, and director Robert Greenwald has been the beneficiary of some high-concept publicity, such as the recent robust discussion of Big Media at New School University featuring its president, Bob Kerrey, and a panel of prominent media watchers including Eric Alterman and Arianna Huffington. As for the film, it makes a trenchant case against Fox’s brutishness and bias, but you don’t need a weatherman to know which way this network’s wind blows.
Outfoxed is only part of an anti-Murdoch campaign by liberal activists. On Monday, Move On and Common Cause led a march on the network’s New York studio, touting their petition to the Federal Trade Commission asking that agency to cancel Fox’s copyright on the slogan “fair and balanced.” According to the petition, Fox’s use of that phrase is “notoriously misdescriptive.” In other words, it’s false advertising.
This claim, and a standing lawsuit from the Independent Media Institute, recall Murdoch’s attempt to stop Al Franken from appropriating Fox’s slogan in his recent book. That tort got laughed out of court. But responding in kind is a dangerous game. If the petition somehow flies, there could be a rash of similar complaints against liberal groups for using slogans that are “notoriously” false. Is it really accurate for a film attacking Fox to refer to Murdoch’s “war on journalism”? Depends on your point of view, but those who don’t share it might sue.
False advertising is not the same as bias. The former is subject to testing; the latter can only be judged subjectively. That’s why it’s crucial to keep the state and the courts out of this area. Not that anyone is likely to sue the libertarian journal Reason for being irrational, but what goes around often comes around where censorship is concerned. Today, “fair and balanced”; tomorrow, “Bush is a liar.”
What Did Whoopi Say?
Everyone knows that Whoopi Goldberg put too much starch in John Kerry’s collar at a Democratic fundraiser last week. But what did she actually say? You wouldn’t know from most press accounts, which made only vague mention of her references to “bush” as part of the female anatomy. Not even Drudge went all the way. (Perhaps he’s a prude when it comes to the female anatomy.) A frantic database search led to a very unlikely source: Matt Labash of the conservative Weekly Standard. According to him, Whoopi’s remarks ran like this: “Nothing has given me more pleasure than bush… Someone has tarnished the world in the name of Bush… Keep bush where it belongs, not in the White House.”
There’s a lesson here about the consequences of failing to report the full content of a controversial statement. It makes the comment seem so kinky that it can’t be printed in the papers. The media’s reticence enabled the Republicans to portray Goldberg — and Kerry — as fonts of perversion. If Dick Cheney’s obscene utterance in the Senate sailed by, that’s partly because the press came closer to letting us know what he’d actually said, and partly because it’s less threatening when a man blurts, “Fuck yourself!” than when a woman meditates on her body. All the more reason for candor. When it comes to sexual politics, what isn’t fit to print is often the truth.