Is Obama getting outmanned?


Amid the news that Obama's aura of inevitability has diminished, Steven Stark looks in this week's Phoenix at how Hillary Clinton is projecting an image of toughness:

Remember that Bill Clinton was the first candidate since Calvin Coolidge elected to the presidency without any kind of military service or connection to a war effort. Still, distasteful as it may seem, he was able to secure his masculine street cred through his well-publicized “eye for the ladies” — a trait that many thought would wreck his candidacy but also enabled him to overcome doubts about his “softness.”

Which brings us back to Obama. It’s true that American culture and politics are changing, and that Obama may be the harbinger of not only a biracial but a “feminizing” trend, brought on by the huge gender shifts in American life. Still, that feminizing of our politics is likely to be welcomed far more by the young than the old, which helps explain, again, why Obama appeals so much less to elderly voters than to the young.

So doubts about a candidate’s masculinity would spell trouble regardless of the opponent. But it’s especially problematic when, well, it's a woman who’s pointing out what a wimp you’ve become. There is a well-accepted role in American life for the “tomboy” — a role, say, inhabited in pop culture by Seinfeld’s Elaine — the girl who loves hanging out in the boy’s gang. Clinton has more than willingly stepped into it.

But there isn’t a comparable role in our culture for the boy who hangs out with the girls and possesses “feminine” values, or at least one who wants to do that and be the leader of all the guys in the free world, too. Obama hasn’t goofily tried to ride a tank, thank goodness. But every day now, Clinton is on the stump, pointing out that, in metaphorical terms, Obama’s 37 wasn’t just a bad bowling score — it was a character flaw that should preclude him from becoming president. This Clinton strategy poses a question: yes, boys will be boys, but when they’re not 100 percent all-boy, can they still be elected president?

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