And Now, Obama
It may have started with Jeanne Kirkpatrick in 1984. In a speech to the Republican National Convention, Kirkpatrick, President Reagan's national security advisor, referred disdainfully to "San Francisco Democrats." Then, as now, San Francisco had plenty of competition as the most liberal city in the U.S.A. but no real competition as the least heterosexual. This was apiece with that year's "Mondale Eats Quiche" bumper stickers, a reminder that, as was commonly quipped then, "real men don't eat quiche."
At the GOP convention in 1988, it was one of the mainstream (a redundant adjective for 1988) media's favorite governors, the overrated New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, who referred to "pastel patriots." (Would a real man even consider wearing pastel?) That year, the Harvard Law graduate who faced George H.W. Bush was accused of having a "boutique" foreign policy. (How many men frequent a "boutique?")
It wasn't only Republican slander against Democrats. Bush 41, a combat war veteran, was accused of being a "wimp"- but that charge lost its potency when rumors arose that the elder Bush was having an affair. Not only did Bush deny the charge but a counter-rumor suggested, probably accurately, that the speculation of an affair was initiated by the Bush camp to erase any doubt that he was a man's man.
The stereotype of the wimp was laid typically at the feet of Democrats. Following his loss, Michael Dukakis was derided by Republicans and the mainstream media alike as having lost considerable credibility by riding around a tank and looking, well, like a little man, a child trying to make like a man. (The actual film probably had less effect on Dukakis' loss than it was argued, but that might have been the point- the guy lost, it must have been because he came off as a girlie-man.)
And then there was John Kerry. In 2003, the New York Times quoted an unnamed GW Bush advisor as saying the Massachusetts Senator "looked French" (and Senator John Edwards as the "Breck Girl" of politics). The "French" references were almost never-ending: right-wing columnist R. Emmet Tyrell said Kerry "looks French," Bush Commerce Secretary Don Evans reportedly characterized him as "a fellow of a different political stripe who looks French," and Wesley Pruden, head of the conservative editorial section of The Washington Times, opined "You have to feel a spot of sympathy for someone who looks as French as John Kerry," who is the "French-looking senator." Never one to be left out of the fun, Rush Limbaugh referred to Kerry as "John Cheri" and "John F. Cheri" because he was "French-looking."
President Carter was mocked for having fended off a "killer rabbit" and for what became known as his "malaise" speech. Carter never actually used the term "malaise" but it did comport with what was viewed as a weak, almost impotent, presidency.
And so we had one of the bright spots of the candidacy, and presidency, of Barack Obama. No one would accuse a black man of being less of a man because, of course, we all know black men have.... (fortunately, I caught myself in time). And no one (aside from an occasional arugala reference) did suggest Mr. Obama is French or unusually effeminate until.... now.
Recently, Maureen Dowd, who likes to ridicule prominent Democrats because she perceives femininity, wants Obama to take "fast, muscular and proficient action" and wrote
Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle, La., residents on Friday. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”
Or as Digby put it, "See, Obama had to force himself to eat a plate of food in order to prove his heartiness. Get it?" (The next thing you know, we'll be hearing Obama eats French food!)
If that isn't obvious enough, Michael Gerson, columnist and former GWBush speechwriter, contended
The setting of the Oval Office creates an expectation of decisive executive action.... Obama urges others to take action, kibitzes with corporate executives, shifts some government personnel and signals the start of a review process. A crisis is met with a study. The action verbs in this speech have somehow gone missing. It is all rather limp and weak.
Obama is a limp-wristed liberal! And he "kibitzes," like an old Jewish woman at brunch! Worst yet, he believes in review and study! When, oh when, will he become a man?
The right would love to call Obama gay but as an insult, that is oh, so politically incorrect. Ditto for implying that the President is effeminate which, even in an age of increasing female participation in the democratic process, is still a characteristic voters don't want in their politicians. (Note that Sarah Palin is always striving to project an image of strength and deemphasizes her femininity.) The GOP is sensitive to charges of sexism and racism- there is a little matter of an extremely embarassing party chairman who knows how to hold on to a job- but if it can caricature the opposition as borderline gay without being called on it, it's full steam ahead.
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