I'm happily married -- and even if I wasn't, I sure wouldn't be looking for a boyfriend in the president of the United States. Yet media meme after media meme suggests otherwise. This politics of personal attraction sexualizes voting and trivializes civics.
The "President Boyfriend" meme was cute when it debuted in 2007 as ObamaGirl had her crush, but one would think Washington wouldn't succumb to the same tarted-up politics of personal attraction when it comes to actually governing. One would be wrong.
Whether it's Karl Rove falsely predicting that American women would "break up with" the leader of the free world, whom the conservative Independent Women's Voices called "the boyfriend," or liberal Lena Dunham gushing about her "first time," the concept of sexualizing the vote seemed silly. But campaigns are silly season, so I'm prepared to leave that in the rearview window with the sincere hope that politicos and pundits will grow up.
The media, it appears, is not -- they just can't get enough of President Boyfriend. When not cheering or jeering "bromances" of Barack Obama and Charlie Crist, then Barack Obama and Chris Christie, they're peddling honest to goodness headlines such as this "eyeroller" identified by Daily Kos: 'Senate GOP Feels Jilted after being Wined and Dined by Obama.'
What's wrong with the politics of personal attraction? Nothing, taken in small doses. We all like to see people get along, especially former adversaries or people from different parties. In limited doses, I'm all for the feel-good moments, but I don't mistake them for actual political progress because, when it comes down to making the big decisions that face our country, it is a fallacy to mistake the shorthand for the longhand.
For one, the president of the United States is not The Bachelor. His job is to do big things -- to make life and death decisions about our lives -- not to take us to the prom. Millions of Americans voted for President Barack Obama twice not because we wanted a boyfriend but because we wanted a leader. Fewer millions opposed him on principle -- not because they wanted a different prom date. The politics of personal attraction wrongly assumes that wine and roses would end what Mediaite's Tommy Christopher calls the Scandalabra of Republican investigations into the Democratic administration. But politics doesn't work that way. Americans are divided on issues and the role of government in our lives, from Sandy to gun safety, thus sent people from different philosophies to engage this debate. The bromancers can hug all they want, but in the end the picture only tells 1,000 words if it's linked to a substantive convergence of views or coalition among them.
Second, pining and whining over the president in such sexualized dating terms insinuates that voters cannot choose beyond our hormones. Ultimately this reinforces stereotypes that fall harder on women -- as evidenced by the 2012 backlash over CNN's sexist and sexualized voting ovulation cycles theory. As a woman dedicated to helping more women enter public service, the last thing I want to see is even more symbolism over substance.
Third, with the economy still in recovery mode and huge domestic challenges like jobs, healthcare, and immigration looming, we can hardly expect our representatives to act like grownups if they are indulged like sexualized teenagers. Every time a major news outlet lends bandwidth to lawmakers sobbing like lovelorn teens over hurt feelings and immature "I'm not calling him," they lose bandwidth that could be spent on evaluating the institutionalized resistance to close the equality gaps in income, opportunity and civil rights. The need to create economic opportunity and advance equality supercedes the need to be wined or dined by anyone.
Leave President Boyfriend and the politics of personal attraction to the kid set -- we need leaders to grow up and govern. American political gridlock is not going to be broken by changing hormones but by changing hearts and minds -- and the sooner we get to that hard work the better.