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A Manly W?

The praise of aggressive masculinity that I talked about in the previous post has been much talked about in the last few years with regard to the president. Many conservatives see Bush post-9/11 as the epitome of resurgent manliness, boldly laying the smackdown on our enemies (in contrast to the girly-man Democrats depicted in this odd cartoon). I agree that Bush has been able to project that image, and that it's a big part of his appeal to many people.

But I think he has also been able to project an image more in line with Bill Clinton, who was reviled for the effeminate declaration "I feel your pain." Immediately after September 11, it was his ability to play the comforting father, grieving along with us, that was responsible for his skyrocketing approval more than was his playing the role of the defiant soldier. The soldier has been on display much more in the past year, but Bush remembers how to play the father role. In California on Tuesday, Bush explained how he wasn't going to give any additional aid (as requested by Arnold Schwarzenegger):

"The best I can do is to listen and hug and empathize as best as I can empathize," the president said. "I suspect the citizens here, who are at the darkest moments, will find light when a fellow citizen loves them."

It's interesting that he went with the compassionate father role here, since firefighting is so steeped in the soldier model. I would have expected a statement of defiant resolution to battle the forces that lead to catastrophic fire (and he did shift into soldier mode when he got to the part of his speech that dealt with Iraq). Perhaps it's that very unexpectedness that makes Bush's statement come off as authentic to people.


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