We've come to expect a certain amount of raw "manliness" from our American Presidents, but George W. Bush may have been the straw that broke the proverbially camel's back on the importance of that particular skillset. What is a President if he -- and invariably it has always been a he (averted gaze) -- cannot crack a Macadamia nut 'tween his forefinger and thumb? Previous to "Dubya," Presidents from George Washington, who excelled in the manly arts of colt-breaking and wrestling to the rail-splitting Lincoln were expected to be manly men. They had what I like to call "the rib-busting ox-strength." Reagan, after his fashion, ostentatiously cleared brush. And Teddy Roosevelt best of all understood Power and exercised it at every opportunity.
There has been, though, quite a bit of excessive "Thumos" in the air, especially after September 11th when we became increasingly security-oriented as a people. Lately the testosteronal stink in the musky gladitorial fundament that is politics has become thoroughly obnoxious. Just before the economic crisis where Bush became a "Born Again Multilateralist," even serene Canada was getting rankled by America's raw aggression. And aggression is like a virus, it spreads: just ask any abused child. Vladimir Putin's instructional martial arts video, for example. Come on now. How about McCain's hissing rage, calling Obama "that one!" Then there is the case of those unregulated financial schemes devised by the greedy, unravelling into disastrous messes picked up by the taxpayer. The world's muscles are coiled like a jungle cat, and its fists are balled, knuckles screaming white, into adamantine knots waiting for the big... Let's all simmer down for a moment. Take robust, deep cleansing breaths.
Things are overheated, to be sure. Now, in this hour of national exigency, these shameful McCain/Palin rallies, where fearless followers, nestled in the crowd of their "brothers," are actually shouting things like: "Kill him!" -- well, this over-masculine overcompensation for the fears and insecurities of 9/11 has reached its logical conclusion. The testosterone party is over. Finally. And not a moment too soon.
Ta-Nehisi Coates recently wrote with passion in The Atlantic about the temperature at McCain rallies, and how the Senator from Arizona failed to mention the so-called Ayers connection at the debates but was voluminous on the subject on the stump:
"Frankly, I've always believed that the quickest way to show you're a chump is to run around telling everyone about that aren't one. You want to prove to the American people that you aren't shook? Don't talk them to death. Get in the ring and kick the other guys ass. It's that simple. Screw all this talk about who's tougher than who. Here is what I know: McCain will talk that shit about Ayers and brag about taking the gloves off. He will send his wife and Sarah Palin out to do his dirty work. But when faced with the man who he believes 'pals around with terrorist' he played his position."
I, too, have never cottoned to people needing to tell me how big and tough they were or are. Real tough guys don't go in for that, anyway. It goes without saying. Chimpanzee-logic. That whole Us-versus-Them -- "they are either for us or their against us" world view of Manichianism suggests naught else but a simple mind riddled with crippling insecurities. And there is always an appeal to collective, demogogic action. Real tough guys don't act in concert with a committee. It seems to me that it is not so much cowardice, although that is a factor in their huddling together collectively to act aggressively, so much as a cacophonous insecurity that these types reek of when they feel the need to talk about their toughness and threaten "the rough stuff" -- whatever that is -- at any
opportunity, always collectively.
Mankind is at its rawest when we are insecure about our ability to make a living, secure our housing, or provide for our future. This is the worst time for the McCain/Palin ticket to be stoking the fires, blowing on the embers, playing with primitive tools, connecting with the limbic brain of voters. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- a man who's toughness served his intellect and not the other way round -- called this scurrilous, low grade strategy "boob bait for Bubba." How right he was.
There has been far too much Thumos, far too much aggressive hypermasculine stupidity, on display in these United States of America in these past seven and a half years. Obama's steady hand and inner calm, we believe, are making such a splash on the psychology of American voters in the closing days of this campaign because the people are is sick of all this "tough guy" stupidity. Even the house conservative of the New York Times David Brooks agrees, opining:
"There has never been a moment when, at least in public, (Obama) seems gripped by inner turmoil. It's not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious. Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity, and now he's become a homeostasis machine.
"When Bob Schieffer asked him tough questions during the debate Wednesday night, he would step back and describe the broader situation. When John McCain would hit him with some critique -- even about fetuses being left to die on a table -- he would smile in amusement at the political game they were playing. At every challenging moment, his instinct was to self-remove and establish an observer's perspective.
"Through the debate, he was reassuring and self-composed. McCain, an experienced old hand, would blink furiously over the tension of the moment, but Obama didn't reveal even unconscious signs of nervousness. There was no hint of an unwanted feeling."
America is looking for another type of President, one that is a multidimensional thinker, a multilateralist, flexible, able to admit his or her error, self-examined, intellectual and serious about the myriad problems facing America. The days of the tough-talking gambler are over. In many ways, the new sort of President is a type that this country has never quite had before. Then again, the problems facing America's future because we have let the ship of State be commandeered by the "Tough Guy" type are a set of issues -- domestically and internationally -- that the country has never had to deal with before as well.
God bless America.