Running for re-election in 1992, President George H.W. Bush refused to acknowledge how the American people were suffering from an economic recession under his administration. To state the obvious, James Carville, an adviser for then candidate, Bill Clinton, coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” This catcall helped Clinton soar to a win, capturing the presidency from Bush, and eventually helping to recover the depressed economy. Watching the recent Republican debates, it struck me that the Democratic Party – which stands at the precipice of maintaining the presidency – could follow Carville’s example by stating the obvious problem with most of the GOP candidates: “It’s the masculinity, stupid!” Of course, that’s not going to happen. But … it’s worth examining.
Certainly, we want a president who’s tough; a decisive leader who will represent us even among those who wish to harm or marginalize us. But, we need a 21st century leader. One who has evolved into a mature and grounded individual with a tool box for handling foreign and domestic affairs that’s filled with more than just the hammer of outmoded masculinity.
Living in the Past
Yet, while watching the GOP debates, I witness grown men seemingly stuck in 20th century definitions of masculinity. I see them bullying and intimidating each other, rather than debating ideas; I listen as they threatened to bring safety and peace through carpet-bombing and torture, rather than showing us a commander-in-chief capable of nimble and precise military strength and wise diplomacy; I watch them try to out-gun and overpower each other with shouting, slights, and shushing. It’s as if they’re revving up their jacked-up, V-8, four-barrel muscle cars on stage wanting to impress. They seem more invested in proving they’re not weak rather than in being leaders.
Evolving for Success
Perhaps the hyper-masculinity in this presidential primary season is more apparent because this is 2016, not 1960. Just as the body, sound, and ride of an old muscle car on the road is now obvious alongside the appearance, performance, and sound of a 2016 hybrid car, the men on stage posturing themselves into the presidency sound and look outdated; anachronistic in a world that demands more fluidity, flexibility, cross-training, and integration.
The heaviness of steel used to represent strength and power in vehicles from the 20th century. Now we have F-150 Ford Trucks built with strong, but lighter materials, such as titanium; engineered with flex fuels that offer both power when you need it and improved gas mileage when you don’t. The days of stubbornly building big, gas-guzzling SUV’s and still expecting to compete in this global market focused on clean energy is a formula for extinction. So Ford and other US automakers chose to evolve.
A New Type of Masculinity
Because it takes more brains than brawn, more analysis than impulse, more discernment than declaration, and more community-building than rugged individualism to be a good leader in the new millennium, we need and should demand to have as our next president an individual who – regardless of gender – has evolved beyond rigid, narrow, and outdated definitions of masculinity. One who has the strength to confront both the terrorists impacting our physical safety and the social inequalities impacting our emotional safety; the compassion for our war vets and our marginalized communities; the power and fortitude to lead and decide; the wisdom and social skills to collaborate and build coalitions; the intellect to learn about the complexities of politics and governance, and the emotional intelligence to introspect and reflect.
Recipe for Failure
We need to recognize that the candidates on the GOP debate stage are wrestling more with their masculinity than with the real issues before us. If we don’t acknowledge the toxicity of bullying and bravado on stage for what they are, we will buy into an old design for masculinity to our peril. It’s a type of leadership style that won’t sell, won’t integrate, won’t prevail in today’s world and, in four years, we’ll be looking to “bail out” this presidency just as President Obama did the US automakers.
Now is the time for the media or the Democratic Party to examine the GOP candidates’ words and actions and expose the real problem, “It’s the masculinity, stupid!”