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Dems Can Win by Transcending Macho Politics

The current edition of American Prospect Online features Francis Wilkinson's "Who's Your Daddy Party?," a funny, yet revealing look at GOP masculinity anxiety and how it's been used against Dems. Wilkinson, a political consultant and former Rolling Stone scribe, zings the GOP's macho posturing with eager panache, but he also offers some insightful observations. A sample:

Bush has made manliness the centerpiece of his persona and his politics. Bush’s flight-deck performance aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln -- “Mission Accomplished” -- long ago became Esperanto for “hubris.”...Observing the President’s flight suit, which expressly accentuated his crotch, G. Gordon Liddy, the right’s uncensored id, noted: “It makes the best of his manly characteristic.”

We are in our sixth year of government by gonads. Through conscious, concerted, disciplined, and relentless effort, Bush and his party have succeeded in cowing critics and defeating Democrats by advancing images of, and insinuations about, manliness in the public sphere. In the Republican political schemata, this is a man’s world. Men have made it dangerous. And only men -- real Republican men -- can make it safe again.

Wilkinson points out that this year Dems are running a slate of candidates for congress with resumes that make their Republican opponents seem, well, limp by comparison. But he believes the time is ripe for Dems to move beyond the 'manly' bluster that typifies GOP campaigns:

As we begin our election-year descent, perhaps it behooves us to consider the value of challenging, rather than perpetuating, ancient archetypes of manhood and demeaning stereotypes of weakness. If Democratic values mean anything, then surely they mean to make gay bashing, misogyny, and the like the political road less traveled, and human dignity a more common cause. The 21st century may well dictate such a course, even if Democrats fail to chart it. Indicators ranging from education and income to reproductive autonomy suggest the new century will be marked and quite likely defined by an ascendance of feminine power. (The political arithmetic is particularly persuasive: Just two decades ago, there was a lone female in the U.S. Senate. Today, there are 14, complemented by eight women governors.)

There is a template for Democratic manhood that wins votes, and Wilkinson concludes by reminding readers:

The one man who taught us better than any other to conquer fear was no Governor Terminator. His muscles were unimpressive. He had no physical swagger to him at all. His military experience was a desk job. He wore no cowboy gear. He smoked cigarettes not like a Marlboro Man but filtered through a slender, feminine holder that could have been a prop from the Follies Bergere. He didn’t promise to protect us. He made us believe we could protect ourselves -- from the violence of fascism and the vicissitudes of capitalism alike. And he handed us the tools to do the job. We built the better part of the American century on the back of an aristocratic, polio-addled cripple. Now that was a man.

Not a bad model for women political leaders, either. Regardless of his/her gender, the Dems' next presidential nominee can win by offering the same humanity, courage and vision that empowered FDR to win four terms.