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Gendering the election


Why Bush Won


by Ken Mondschein



Unlike most of my Kerry-supporting friends, I refused to have faith in a Democratic victory. I can remember the exact moment I lost my religion, too: Watching the second debate, the so-called "town-hall meeting," where the two candidates stalked one another in the ring like a couple of gladiators before a national TV audience. It was all I could do to keep from screaming: While all Kerry could do was impotently point and accuse like Banquo's (or Dukakis') ghost—being careful never to descend to Howard Dean-like shrillness—Bush seemed smugly confident, sure of himself, a warrior-king addressing his armies.

The next day, all any of my liberal New York activist colleagues could talk about was what a swaggering, arrogant, macho prick Bush came off as. After all, in our circles, men who don't exhibit empathy and interpersonal communication skills aren't very well thought of (though they do seem to get laid at about the same rate as the rest of us). However, what most of us artsy middle-class professional PoMo bohemian/yuppie types, with our highlighted hair and carefully-chosen thrift-store ensembles, failed to realize is that Bush's base of support goes beyond the "I got mine" conservatives with their SUVs and $400,000 tract homes that they can't afford to furnish, the gun nuts with their AR-15s, and the Christian theocrats with their red-letter Bibles open to Genesis 19. Bush couldn't have won as big as he did without the support of ordinary people who work in offices in fear of their bosses and their mortgages and getting laid off.

Guys who crank up Metallica in their cars and pound the steering wheel to "Master of Puppets," even though the last time they actually went to a concert was in high school ten years ago, because they're stuck in traffic and pissed off and there's nothing else they can do except go slowly mad.

Men who proudly describe themselves as "rednecks" with bumper stickers and lawn ornaments because they long for an ethnic identity more substantial than "one eighth Scottish, one eighth Irish, a quarter Polish, half German, and a little Cherokee," and, being deeply suspicious of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," want to be able to wear plaid flannel shirts around the house on weekends.

Fathers who aren't sure they like the domesticated life, but are too in terror of family-court judges to walk out on the wife and baby, and whose fears of not measuring up to being a provider like Dad was (never mind falling real wages) are only worsened by gay marriage and metrosexual New Yorkers with hair highlighting.

Say what you like—that at least Bush finally got elected, that the Red Sox swept the World Series because Kerry had to borrow the curse, that America deserves what it gets—but, in my humble opinion, this perceived American crisis of masculinity is the real cause of what happened November 2. Like watching action movies or professional sports, participating in the Bush victory was a psychic restorative, giving back some semblance of a sense of manly honor that has been stolen away by time clocks, Dr. Phil, and Zoloft. Bush's message speaks directly to the heart of the emasculated modern man: stick with me, and we'll stand tall, provide for our families, and kick terrorist ass.

And Kerry? No way he'd use anything like Karl Rove's boys' club gender politics. Hell, his campaign manager was even a woman.

The problem with the Democratic party isn't that it didn't address the issues—as the New York Times will tell you, it sure as hell did a better job of that than Bush—but that it's not addressing our society on a larger scale. We are a nation of feelers, not thinkers, and being sure our sense of gender is central to our sense of security, homeland or otherwise—which is no doubt why ten of eleven states passed anti-gay-marriage referendums.

(And as for the women who voted for Bush—hell, someone's got to marry those arrogant, smug, sexy assholes. Nothing like your own Dubbya between the sheets, especially if he's an old-fashioned type who will be a husband and provider.)

One thing's for sure: If the Left wants to get back on its feet, it had better grow a pair—or at least start acting like it has.



Ken Mondschein can be reached at He does interviews.

Posted January 3, 2004 3:27 AM






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