To quote Alterman:
Liberal Democrats today are faced with an unhappy paradox. The most significant factor in John Kerry's defeat was that, according to exit polls, 79 percent of voters who said terrorism or national security determined their vote chose the chickenhawk over the war hero. Though they agreed with the Democrats on most issues--and agreed, by a 49 to 45 percent margin, according to election day exit polls, that the Iraq War had made us less, not more, secure--a majority of voters still felt safer with the idea of George W. Bush minding the store. Based on the evidence, it is almost a perfectly irrational reaction to reality.
Alterman then offers the myriad reasons we are less safe than ever, and yet, the perception, somehow is that our tough-talking Commander in Chief is a better guardian of our safety than John Kerry, who actually faced battle, could have been. That when it comes to staying safe, better to be the playground bully--dumb as shit but tough as nails--then the intellectual who will try to use his words to protect his friends.
And yet making sense on foreign policy is not enough. It may actually be a net negative. As Bill Clinton famously explained, Americans prefer a President who appears "strong and wrong" to one who seems right but looks weak. If that means getting a bunch of innocent people killed or making foreign policy problems worse, so be it. Council on Foreign Relations president emeritus Leslie Gelb admitted as much when he wrote on the Wall Street Journal editorial page of the Democrats' alleged "Cheney Envy." (No, I do not think this was a reference to recent photos of the VP appearing on the Internet.) Gelb argued that "sometimes, even often, he and President Bush use [military power] too blatantly and bluntly, and it backfires. Such has been true of the administration's clumsy and erratic efforts to stop nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea." Nor does it matter that Bush and Cheney "let U.S. forces march off to smash Saddam without a plan to win the peace, or...[that their] contempt alienated our closest allies needlessly." What matters, at least politically, he argued, is that "Americans need to feel assured that our leaders will crush those who would hurt us. Correctly or incorrectly, Americans wonder whether Democrats have the stomach for this. They don't wonder about Mr. Cheney or Mr. Bush."
Consequently, Americans have retreated to some primal caveman part of their brains where the response to violence is to beat someone with a stick.
I'm not knocking masculinity. As a heterosexual woman, I'm more than attracted to men, although I've never been attracted to bullies. I'm a sucker for the wordsmith, who can woo me with words and ideas and yes, poetry. The one who probably got beaten up on the playground when he was a kid--I like that vulnerable part of himself. I don't think I would have ever dated a George Bush or Dick Cheney. And yet, as a nation, we seem to want to date these guys because they're going to kick the ass of the guy who whistles at us. Or says mean things to us.
So there's the conundrum. Talk tough and reach for your revolver often, and Americans might let you craft their healthcare, education and family-leave policies. Speak sensibly about foreign policy, and even if they agree with you, they'll go for the guy with the gun.
I continue to find myself wondering why we can't have a national discussion about this. Why can't we talk about our antipathy to intellectuals, our equation of intellectuals with effeminancy, the fact that tough guys make us feel safer. Do we really want to embrace the primitive parts of our brains? Or do we want to advance to some form of civilization? (And yes, that's a whole other can of worms--the domesticity imposed on men and women by civilization.)
Anyway. I know I sound like a broken record, but I cannot get over how pundits dance around this issue and refuse to name the tune.
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