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                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The GOP Debate: beyond the beauty shop

The Hill and the NYT both give fine rundowns of last night's South Carolina GOP Presidential debate. But Garance Franke-Ruta, writing at Tapped, is probably right about what will be the media take away line from last night's tussle:
Mike Huckabee's quip that Congress has "spent money like Edwards at a beauty shop" was met with guffaws and rolling waves of applause from the Columbia, South Carolina audience. [snip] It's a perfect example of the classic G.O.P. tactic of turning an admittedly ridiculous, irrelevant cultural or personal attribute about a candidate into a metaphor for that person's policies, by slowly moving the mockery along from the personal to the political, until the candidate himself has become a joke.

I'd go further on one point. GOP politics has always been about using code. In this case the code used is pretty apparent: real men go to barbers not beauty shops. Huckabee was simply reconfirming Ann Coulter's insult of John Edwards in a down home manner.

In that light, Lakshmi Chaudhry's 2004 interview with author Stephen Ducat (The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity) is worth revisiting. According to Ducat:
The underlying premise of [the] book is that the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman. This imperative to be repudiate everything feminine – whether it's external or internal – is played out as much in politics as in personal life.

In politics – where there is an enormous potential for personal gain or ruin – what this leads to is a concerted effort on the part of candidates to disavow the feminine in themselves, and to project it on to their opponents.

That was the central function of the Republican National Convention. Once you got past the moderate sweet talk, the purpose was essentially to make John Kerry their woman. There were a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle code words in this attempt to feminize him. This is a strategy that Republicans have long employed. They've just been more brazen about it lately.

The entire interview is on point to Garance's post and well worth a read.



  • That Ducat book is a good one. I read it a few years back.

    On the subject of Edwards, did you hear when Rush Limbaugh said he could be our first ever woman president?

    These people are horrible.

    By Blogger Noah, at 5:51 PM  

  • For myself, I'll be interested to see how this dynamic plays out if the Republicans face an actual woman opponent in the race for President. Especially since, if Hillary is the nominee, paradoxically, I would argue that the GOP attack on her would not be so much about her femininity per se as her ambition for power. (It's striking to me that these ten Republican men can stand up without so much as a peep raised about their various ambitions coming into the picture; with Hillary, however, that has always been the central story line. The implicit question, and one that I think has real perils for the GOP, is how dare a woman want to be powerful.)

    Of course, no one much cares anymore where Hillary Clinton gets her hair done or how feminine or masculine she is. She is perhaps the only woman in America who could run for President and NOT have the central issue of the campaign be the effort to elect the first woman President. Love her or hate her, most Democrats and Republicans understand that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, her focus will be on one thing: to be elected President of the United States, gender be damned.

    Of course, the GOP response to Hillary as nominee could well be to choose a woman of their own as a running mate. That's something to consider and file away...especially as the beauty shop rhetoric, and its deliberate insinuations, rule the day.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 6:08 AM  

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