If you’ve been tuned into the Ukraine situation, especially recently, you’ve probably heard the hum of Republican criticism over President Obama’s handling of the situation growing louder and louder.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted that the lack of a stronger response to Benghazi was enough to “invite this type of aggression [from Russia].”
“In Ukraine, we’re seeing the direct consequences of a failure of American leadership,” echoed Republican Senator Ted Cruz, criticizing Obama for receding from the world, abandoning allies and failing to show resolve. Putin, Cruz submits, “has taken a measure of President Obama and has determined that he has nothing to fear from the United States, and that is why he is proceeding with impunity.”
Clearly, Republicans are too busy shamelessly slinging mud at Obama to fully grasp the irony of the situation; it is they, if anyone, who are “inviting aggression” by actively sabotaging Obama’s domestic agenda, imposing their own out-of-touch policies and criticizing his every move internationally.
Besides, anyone who has a basic understanding of what is transpiring in Ukraine will tell you that America’s options are greatly limited.
However, for now, let’s just focus on the underlying message here: Democrats, specifically liberal men, are “soft” – not just with regard to their views on foreign affairs, but personally as well.
Obama has been plagued by this from day one. Conservatives want you to see Obama, and more generally, male Democrats, as “lesser” men than male Republicans. They would like you to believe liberal men are a bunch of latte-drinking, hybrid-driving, hipster Nancy-boys uninterested in the staples of American alpha-male culture, e.g. ignorant patriotism, greed, guns and drinking.
The bully metaphor is often used by conservatives to drive this point home. Another example is the Republican National Committee’s “Rush GOP” college outreach effort. The aim is to associate the Republican Party with fraternities, the cauldron of alpha-male culture for American young men.
In part, this portrayal is a rebellion against the intellectualism and cultural domination of the left. Fox News is the principal agent of this rebellion. They promulgate the narrative of Democrats as belonging to one of two categories: unenlightened, gullible minorities or marginalized, elitist whites (how dare Obama combine both!).
Think of the ridiculous furor evinced by the online holiday ad for the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros claimed the “disgraceful” ad was depicting the American male as a “two handed … man-child with footed pajamas” and “a hot chocolate drinking doofus in a onesie.” The National Review also chimed in, stating that Americans deserved the “parade of over-educated and under-experienced perpetual children who don’t think twice before dressing a grown man up in footie pajamas [now running the government].”
Putting aside our curiosity over exactly how many hands Tantaros’ real man is supposed to have (two seems normal to us) for the moment, the main problem with these rather archaic simplifications of what is “manly” is whether that is even a relevant characterization in a society that is supposed to prize feminine and masculine attributes equally.
These and other characterizations of liberal men go beyond questions of homophobia and a rebellion against cultural openness. Lurking behind this idea of Obama and liberals not being “manly” is a still-simmering patriarchal fear of not just feminized men but also of women’s increasingly indispensable role in the highest levels of political decision-making.
There is nothing “unmanly” about believing that feminism was a good thing to happen to Western society, that social justice is a worthy and necessary goal of self-government, or that how you dress has no bearing on your sexual preference.
Conservatives are risking alienating many younger voters by continuing with this exclusionary and bigoted rhetoric.
The authors are executive board members of the Miami University College Democrats.