Presidential Manliness, part 24 October 2008
Needless to say, Americans have usually felt most comfortable with a male figurehead in politics. The president especially seems to need to strike the pose of the national pater familias – and never is this more true than with his capacity as commander-in-chief.
I point out the 1988 presidential election, in which Michael Dukakis (D) faced off against George Bush (R). Each were competing to follow the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who, for all of his controversial policies, had established himself as a masculine icon. Reagan had opposed communism unflinchingly, and had expanded the American military considerably. Bush, while not the same imposing figure, had the advantage of association with the Hollywood (Holly-war?) president.
Bush was pressing for further military development, especially with regard to new space technologies. Dukakis urged for cutbacks in these areas, a stance which risked making him look effete in comparison with his opponent. The Democratic candidate attempted to shore up this loss of masculine image by staging some photos in an M1 Abrams tank at a Michigan military productions plant. UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher had utilized similar pictures not long before that, and had seen a boost in her popularity. For Dukakis, however, it backfired. Even though he had spent time in the army, the Bush campaign used the tank footage as ammo against Dukakis, portraying him as an insecure poseur.
There are rules to masculine posturing in America, be it in the schoolyard or on the presidential platform. Stand tall – but never try too hard.