Sunday, November 04, 2007

Showing Some Cod, Revised

Hillary Rebounds Quickly--Although Hillary Clinton did not respond well to Tim Russert's wedge-sniffing question about drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, she recovered quickly. In short order, Hillary's staff complained about "piling on" by male Democratic candidates and then Hillary herself gave a speech at Wellesley College (her alma mater) focusing on the pathbreaking nature of her status as the first female contender for the presidency. By the end of the week, the wobble had been forgotten in the deluge of commentary on Hillary "playing the gender card." Hillary needs to be stronger when challenged by people like Russert, but she proved effective at changing the terms of the post-debate debate. To the contrary, John Edwards is still suffering from his $400 haircut.

The Rally Around Hillary Effect. The most surprising post-debate development was that liberal bloggers like Matthew Yglesias, Digby, Melissa McEwan, and Matt Stoller all rallied around Hillary. This was a first for the liberal blogging crowd, all of whom are considerably to the left of Hillary Clinton and have been experimenting with giving their support to Obama (Bias alert: RSI endorsed Hillary in March). Defending Hillary's right to be proud of being a trailblazer, the liberal bloggers united to stress the fact that male candidates have been playing the gender card in every presidential election since Washington's 1792 campaign.

Digby's discussion of the politics of masculinity since Reagan is worth quoting at length for its stress on "metaphorical crotch measuring."
And now I will be eagerly looking forward to [Chris Matthews] and the rest of the commentators calling out the entire Republican field for also playing the "gender" card as they've been doing for the past few decades. Indeed, the entire Republican campaign strategy can be said to be one big gender card --- the only people they believe matter in this country are delicate, insecure creatures who are so sensitive that they have to be pampered and pandered to like a bunch of overfed princes who like to play cowboy and don't want to share their favorite binky. Every presidential candidate, and most other politicians, since 1980, have been bowing and scraping before this constituency. But for some reason, the hunting trips and codpieces and brush clearing and all that metaphorical crotch measuring isn't considered playing "the gender card." It's just considered the normal political pander to an aggrieved minority vote: the poor white males who've been treated terribly by all those powerful women and minorities and gays. What could be wrong with that?

Liberal bloggers are far from all-powerful (something which I deeply regret), but it's still a plus for Hillary that the left blogosphere is at least somewhat committing itself to defending her candidacy. There was some worry that people on the left would be unenthused about a Hillary candidacy. But the Hillary campaign may prove to be a flag that the left can rally around in the general election.

Showing Some Cod. It's worthwhile to go deeper into the the whole idea of "codpiece" politics proposed by Digby. It may turn out that the language of cod is most useful for discussing the politics of masculinity. Cod-pieces are not penises. A cod-piece is a clothing device that represents a man's penis and testicles (or "package") as being larger than they would be otherwise. It's basically "male enhancement." Macho politics functions in the same way. What Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, George Bush, Rudy Giuliani, and countless other politicians have done is advertise their attitudes, accomplishments, or life in general as a super-enhanced maleness, or fantastically large cod-piece. Instead of thinking of politics in terms of penis-size, it might be useful to think of politics in terms of inflatable codpieces or, to be more concise, "cods." The male candidate who can inflate his codpiece the most is the most manly man in the race which is why candidates work so hard to inflate their codpiece selves while deflating the cods of their opponents through negative advertising, rumor mongering, push polls, and other tactics. Because it's so oriented toward symbolic display, contemporary macho politics is mostly about "showing some cod."

The Hillary Effect. Given the "artificial" nature of cods, women are just capable of showing a little cod, or a lot of cod, as men. Hillary Clinton is a good example of this. There isn't much doubt that Hillary is at least just as tough, just as dominant, just as shrewd, and just as tenacious as the male Democratic candidates. In fact, she has a reputation for having more of these qualities than any of the men she's running against. In other words, Hillary displays even more cod than Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Dodd, and Biden. Even worse, Hillary can play "the gender card" of being a woman who is pioneering women's history in the United States. Even if Obama and the rest began to claim more for their codpieces, they still cannot claim that they could be the first female president in American history. In this sense, Hillary isn't just "playing the gender card" against her Democratic opponents. She's squeezing them in a gender vice in which she monopolizes the symbolism of both masculinity and femininity.

Opposing Hillary. Thinking of Hillary in terms of displaying cod also gives us some insight into the Rudy Giuliani approach for opposing Hillary if he wins the Republican nomination. In attacking Hillary on an almost daily basis, Giuliani is not only trying to distance himself from his Republican opponents, he's announcing that his general election campaign will be a non-stop, intimidating, even grotesque display of his cod. If nothing else, Giuliani will seek to convince voters that he can out-cod Hillary to such an enormous extent that she will be reduced to being "the female candidate" and Rudy will have a decent shot at winning.

How should Hillary respond. Obviously, Hillary's will need to "man-up" for the general election if she's going to beat Rudy Giuliani. That means dishing out as much as she's taking, answering his put-downs with put-downs of her own, and showing that she's just as much cod as Rudy has. However, Rudy's cronyism, corruption, refusal to countenance dissent, bizarre Mafia-like rituals, cross-dressing, and three marriages provide a lot of material for the cod deflation of negative advertising. Hillary's negative advertising will have a shot at deflating Giuliani to such an extent that all his furious pumping will not be able to reinflate his cod. In the final analysis, Giuliani's cod might turn to be just a fish.

No comments: