Serious / Macho
by Chris Bowers, Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 04:30:55 PM EST
The latest to make a fool of himself is Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who argues that those who favor the increase in troops are either cynical or delusional. Mostly the latter. Delusional neocons like Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan, to be precise. But what about retired General Jack Keane--whom Krugman doesn't mention--and the significant number of military intellectuals who have favored a labor-intensive counterinsurgency strategy in Baghdad for the past three years? They are serious people.Washington Post Editorial yesterday (emphasis mine):Without a surge, Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman warn, the war will be lost. This is a serious argument, and the two senators have been principled and even courageous in making it. As someone who opposed the war from long before it began, and thus was long branded as "not serious" as a result, it is remarkable to me how those who now support escalation are immediately branded as "serious" by those who do not support escalation but who did support the war in the first place. In fact, the entire Washington Post editorial yesterday seemed simply to be a defense of the people who support escalation as "serious" and otherwise good people, even if the Washington Post itself can't bring itself to personally step onto the ashbin of history. This isn't surprising really, since another serious commentator, Richard Cohen, has recently stated that the main reason he opposed supported the war was because he didn't want to throw his lot with the unserious, dirty hippies who opposed it.
There may be disagreements within the DLC-nexus of pundits from time to time, but as we can see form the DLC-nexus pundits are dealing with the current schism over escalation, maintaining the power and image of the punditry nexus itself is more important than any short term schism. For Joe Klein and Fred Hyatt, the most important point is that the people who wrongly support escalation are still serious and worthy of our attention. They are not, heaven forbid, any of those unserious, dirty fucking hippies who are not worthy of serious attention. To co-opt their favorite word for a moment, this causes rather "serious" problems, as Digby noted in a piece about Jonathan Chait:
This kind of thinking has permeated the establishment from day one. Plenty of people said in advance that the war was a mistake for exactly the reasons that Chait is now so surprised by. Nobody listened to them then and nobody is listening to them now. In fact, they were and are derided and marginalized. Today allegedly liberal pundits are rather seriously discussing the merits of installing friendly dictators now that their fantasies failed to become reality. How ridiculous.I once argued that the establishment media sought to marginalize the blogosphere and, indeed, the entire progressive movement, by portraying us as unstable teenagers to their stern, wise and learned adults. I image much the same thing happened to "hippies" in the 1960's/ The thing is, it isn't just the netroots and "hippies" who suffer this discursive marginalization based not upon what we say, but instead upon our lack of perceived cultural characteristics. Indeed, the cultural concepts contained with the DLC-nexus punditry's conception of "seriousness" are based upon a long-standing reaction to the Democratic party being perceived as feminine instead of macho, which also recently served to marginalize the gains of women in the otherwise sweeping gains realized by the Democratic Party in 2006. In discussing Ryan Lizza's recent piece on macho Democrats, Sara Posner wrote the following: I had a creepy feeling reading Lizza's piece, in part because I hate that silly macho pissing contest, where the Democrats feel they have to work so hard not to look French or worry about their hair (unless they're a woman, in which case they should worry very much about it) and drink Bud instead of latte. But also because I know that if success in Democratic politics depends on a macho test, female politicians will always face the eternal tug between flaunting their toughness while constantly tempering it with a prominent display of estrogen. Posner's right: for a long time, probably ever since the 1972 Presidential election (and certainly since the 1984 election), in order to be taken seriously on the national stage, individual Democrats have indeed been required to pass a test of machismo. Much of this was probably connected to having to distance themselves from the feminine, hippie left. As I noted above, all of the requirements Democrats have been forced to meet during this time could easily been lifted from anti-feminist writings throughout the 20th century (and earlier). Democrats have to prove they are willing to fight, by showing they know that the use of military force can sometimes (often) be a good thing. They must prove they are patriotic, and more willing to pursue America's interests even if it means pissing off our allies. They have to prove they are serious, and can justify their arguments according to logic rather than emotions. These are simply new phrasings of the same obstacles women have faced to equality. Male chauvinists have long argued that women are not tough enough, not mentality capable enough, and too willing to compromise or based decisions on their emotions and / or the feelings of others in order to perform on an equal level to men at the highest levels of our society.,
Update II: One thing that should be noted is that Chait, like many of his DC brethren, has what seems to be temperamental aversion to the dirty hippies of the left. During the Bush years he has gone slightly cuckoo over Deaniacs, anti-war protesters, Lieberman ousters and grassroots troublemakers in general. I don't know the guy, but from reading his stuff it appears to be the result of a reflexive emotional reaction.
This is one of the fault lines that exists in liberalism today --- the knee jerk assumptions by the elites about the grassroots populists and vice versa. The problem for the party, however, is that opinion makers like Chait are taken seriously by policymakers while the grassroots troublemakers are not and the result is that their visceral dislike of our ilk comes into play in important ways.
In a very real sense, in order to national favor, self-identified Democrats have been required to go through the same trials and roadblocks women have faced in their struggle for equality over the past century and more. Demonstrating seriousness has become nearly identical as demonstrating true masculinity--machismo, really. In both cases, failure to make said demonstration will deny you entrance into a dominant power structure. In the minds of the DLC-nexus of pundits, the blogosphere, the netroots and the progressive movement failed that test from day one of their appearance on the national scene, when our "personal" blogs (read here: dairies) helped propel anti-war Howard Dean into the national spotlight using our "small" donations and "volunteer" (read here: homemade) activism. We don't pass the macho / serious smell test that the DLC-nexus of pundits not only had to pass themselves, but which they honestly believe is necessary to Democratic electoral success. And so, as we are witnessing in the current schism over escalation in the DLC-nexus of punditry, members of the group are still vociferously labeled as "serious" by other members of the group even when they are clearly and utterly wrong about escalation. Glenn Greenwald wonders:Any argument for more war is, in the eyes of the Washington Establishment, always, by definition "serious." We invaded a country, unleashed the greatest strategic disaster in our history, wrought complete chaos and anarchy in that country, have squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands upon thousands of lives, and now some want to send still more troops and escalate what we have been doing? That's a very "serious argument." Of course it is. Arguing in favor of death and extended violence has always been one of the most serious things macho guys can do--especially when you don't care about the consequences beforehand. In fact, that is actually what makes them more serious and macho: the willingness to use force to solve a potential threat without regard to the potentially negative consequences. Only the pansies would like to see violence end, avoid it in the first place, or warn about the many negative consequences of violent actions. Further, especially now during this moment of weakness and errancy following the 2006 elections, the cult of seriousness / machismo must be defended lest the entire cult be exposed. Again form Sara Posner's above linked article: After all, the jig is up on the Republicans' phony testosterone show. From the transparently repressed White House confidant Ted Haggard to the irrepressibly horny Mark Foley, the Republicans have been exposed as the craven coddlers of their nelly bretheren, something that would never be tolerated -- much less even imagined -- by any genuine tough guy, who would've kicked both their asses before any meth could be purchased or IM sent. And even the GOP's capos have been fully emasculated: DeLay's blogging, for heaven's sake, Abramoff's in the pokey, Hastert's a mere shell of his former self (oh, well, maybe shell is a poor word choice for the hulking former wrestling coach), and Frist has had his testicles, and his presidential prospects, handed to him on a silver platter purchased with the proceeds from insider trading. (Is there a diagnosis for that, doctor? The Republican defeat, especially coming at the hands of progressive grandmother Pelosi, has created a major image problem for the cult of seriousness and machismo. The lies of the "serious" were exposed on Iraq, ethics and family values, and Democrats ended up winning the election based on a platform of withdrawal and hippified integrity. Things can't get much more feminine, unserious and unmacho than that.
In a political culture where being serious and being macho are construed as one and the same thing, is it any wonder that Democratic women struggled so greatly on November 7th? In both the top tier and lower tier of House races, Democratic women (the most feminine and unserious sort of person of all) suffered narrow setbacks: Darcy Burner (WA-08), Patricia Madrid (NM-01), Victoria Wulsin (OH-02), Angie Paccione (CO-04), Tammy Duckworth (IL-06), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), Linda Stender (NJ-07), Lois Murphy (PA-06), Diane Farrell (CT-04) and, probably, Christine Jennings in FL-13. These ten defeats were fifteen of our closest losses, a disproportionate number made even more so by the fact that most of our candidates weren't women in the first place (and you might as well throw Francine Busby's defeat in the CA-50 special election last June onto that list as well). It probably didn't help the cause of Democratic women that the "serious" and "alpha male" men who rose to the top of the Democratic campaign infrastructure might not exactly have the best idea of what sort of message works best for women candidates, or even which kind of attributes are preferable when it comes to selecting women candidates.
As long as being "serious" is the same thing as being "macho" or "Alpha male" in our political discourse, I imagine both that Democratic women candidates will continue to experience less success than their male counterparts, and that the netroots and the progressive movement will continue to be marginalized by the dominant, establishment media pundit class. Both share the same problem: a perceived lack of the cultural characteristics that makes one worthy of attention by, and membership in, dominant political power structures. It thus should not be too surprising that about the only location where one currently can read overtly feminist political punditry is within the blogosphere itself, which has a thriving feminist component. Granted, the ice on this subject might start to break in the establishment media now that Nancy Pelosi is Speaker, but ultimately successful movements of this sort need a lot more than a charismatic leader in order to succeed over the long term. What is far more likely is that Pelosi will often be derided as "not serious" by the likes of Richard Cohen, Fred Hyatt, Joe Klein and Jonathan Chait, and it will be done with varying levels of overt misogyny and other forms of cultural chauvinism. Actually, this might end up being one circumstance where the progressive movement is actually faced with the same challenge of left-wing activists in the 1960's. Success might require not just building new institutions or altering current ones, but instead in changing the culture of seriousness and machismo itself. One thing is for sure, with these cultural norms dominating our political discourse, just tinkering and tokenizing the pundit class will not do the trick.