November 1, 2008

Brains versus brawn: who's got the political muscle?

Arnold Schwarznegger stumped with John McCain in Ohio yesterday, the state that hosts the Arnold Classic, a televised bodybuilding competition.

In true Arnold fashion, Schwarznegger decided to mock Obama’s physique as a sign of weakness.

“I want to invite Senator Obama because he needs to do something about those skinny legs,” he said to loud and amused roars. “I’m going to make him do some squats. And then we’re going to make him do some biceps curls to beef up those scrawny little arms.”

This is not the first time the Governator of California has utilized gendered tactics in politics that reinforces traditional notions of masculinity that emphasize muscularity and toughness as signs of true (male) leadership.

Who can forget his appearance at the 2004 Republican National Convention when he called “pessimists” of the economy  economic “girly men?” This is also not the first time that Obama’s masculinity has been called into question during the course of this campaign.

Naomi Klein comments on the continued gender war in politics from her op-ed piece in the New York Times in June:

Hillary Clinton may be out of the race, but a Barack Obama versus John McCain match-up still has the makings of an epic American gender showdown.

The reason is a gender ethic that has guided American politics since the age of Andrew Jackson. The sentiment was succinctly expressed in a massive marble statue that stood on the steps of the United States Capitol from 1853 to 1958. Named “The Rescue,” but more commonly known as “Daniel Boone Protects His Family,” the monument featured a gigantic white pioneer in a buckskin coat holding a nearly naked Indian in a death’s grip, while off to the side a frail white woman crouched over her infant.

The question asked by this American Sphinx to all who dared enter the halls of leadership was, “Are you man enough?” This year, Senator Obama has notably refused to give the traditional answer.

The particulars of that masculine myth were established early in American politics. While the war hero-turned-statesman is a trope common to many countries in many eras, it has a particular quality and urgency here, based on our earliest history, when two centuries of Indian wars brought repeated raids on frontier settlements and humiliating failures on the part of the young nation’s “protectors” to fend off those attacks or rescue captives. The architects of American culture papered over this shaming history by concocting what would become our prevailing national security fantasy — personified by the ever-vigilant white frontiersman who, by triumphing over the rapacious “savage” and rescuing the American maiden from his clutches, redeemed American manhood.

Funny, considering the state of the California budget (which is 10 billion out of balance with a deficit much higher than the one Davis left him with), his continued budget cuts in education and the national economy, in general, Schwarznegger’s biceps have not served him, or any of us, well.

George Monbiot wrote a great article that was posted on Alternet yesterday about The Triumph of Ignorance: How Morons Succeed in U.S. Politics that helps explain why someone like Schwarznegger is even able to stand at the podium and make such ludicrous statements and have audiences applaud.

How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the United States come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind’s closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist?

As Monbiot points out, there are numerous variables that intersect and education is one of the most important.  Oh, yeah, right, the system that Schwarznegger himself has continued to gut during his time in office. For a nation that celebrates education as a value, there’s no support.  This is a classic example of ideal culture versus real culture or talking the talk and walking the walk.

In fact, politicians not only rip apart the educational budget to shreds but they mock at intellectual politicians.  How many times have we heard John McCain and his supporters question Obama based on his vocabulary and ability to articulate intelligent ideas?  How else can we explain why Joe the Plumber (who isn’t sick of this guy?) is on the campaign trail with McCain speaking on economic issues and foreign policy?  This is ludicrous!

As Monbiot points out:

It wasn’t always like this. The founding fathers of the republic — men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton — were among the greatest thinkers of their age. They felt no need to make a secret of it.

So, not only is Obama’s intellect to question and be suspicious of but his lack of brawn reinforces the fact that he isn’t fit to lead: he isn’t a “real” man. Oy vey!  See where these “real” men have taken us?  Now, wake up.

2004 Republican National Convention:

In Ohio with John McCain: