Frederick of Hollywood and the Tiny Silicone Penis
I have been reading a fascinating book called "The Wimp Factor" by Stephen J Doucat that thoroughly examines the strange phenomenon of anxious Republican masculinity and the way it's informing our politics. (As most of you know this is one of my obsessions, so I was thrilled when VernonLee kindly mailed it to me after a conversation about it at Drinking Liberally.)
I will be writing more about it over time, but I just wanted to make note of one little thing that I didn't know and I doubt that you all knew either:
By far the most compelling confirmation of the phallic meaning of the president's aircraft-carrier cakewalk was found on the hot-selling "George W. Bush Top Gun action figure" manufactured by Talking Presidents. I originally ordered one to use as part of the cover design for this book. The studly twelve-inch flyboy not only comes with a helmet and visor, goggles and oxygen mask, but underneath his flight suit is a full "basket" --- a genuine fake penis, apparently constructed with lifelike silicone.
I'll just let that percolate in your mind for a bit.
As it happens, today The New Republic also published a big cover story called "The Masculine Mystique of Fred Thompson". The Republicans have apparently moved on from their excessive adolescent concern with what's inside the presidential codpiece all the back to their early childhood. They just want to crawl up on Daddy's lap, stick their thumbs in their mouths and have him tell them he'll take care of his lil' citizens.
Reductively speaking, Thompson stands as the Daddy Party's dream Daddy--although a Daddy of a very particular type. Forget the nurturing, "compassionate conservative" model of Bush's 2000 candidacy, which has been roundly discredited on the right. Forget, too, the blustery, "Bring it on!" swagger that W. adopted after September 11, a little-guy machismo one also sees in Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Thompson's manliness is laconic rather than feisty, a style more John Wayne than Jimmy Cagney. "He's a big man," says Duncan. "He has a way of filling or dominating a room." And, as all of us recall from our schoolyard days, big guys like Thompson don't need to run around picking fights, talking smack, and constantly reminding us of how tough they are because, well, look at them.
Certainly, the Thompson talk in both cyberspace and the traditional media is a study in hero worship, with grown conservatives swooning like cheerleaders smitten over the manliness of the varsity quarterback. There is much rejoicing about the senator's growling voice, his studly cigar habit, and his physical size. My favorite bit of macho Fred-worship making its way around the Internet is a widely circulated joke about the title of the recent film 300, in which a small troop of Spartans holds the line against the massive Persian army: "If Fred Thompson had been at Thermopylae, the movie would have been called 1." (Reading posts like this, it's unsurprising that, according to USA Today, 64 percent of Thompson's supporters are male, the highest percentage for any presidential hopeful.)
Among more serious journalists, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes has developed a particularly intense man-crush on Thompson, penning a series of breathless valentines about the fledgling campaign, starting with a 6,000-word profile in April that gushed: "As we spoke, I was struck by the fact that Thompson didn't seem to be calibrating his answers for a presidential run. On issue after contentious issue, I got the sense from both his manner and the answer he gave me that he was just speaking extemporaneously." Nor is it only the conservative media getting high on the smell of testosterone. The creepiest musings about Thompson's "sex appeal" thus far have come from NBC's Chris Matthews, the machismo-obsessed id of the Washington media, who recently cooed: "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man's shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of--a little bit of cigar smoke?"
More adolescent members of the chattering class, meanwhile, have taken to drooling over Mrs. Thompson, whose penchant for low-cut, form-fitting ensembles already has buttoned-down political types buzzing. Msnbc's Joe Scarborough recently created a stir when he and guest analyst Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly indulged in some lascivious speculation about whether the curvaceous Jeri's fitness regime makes use of a stripper's pole. Tacky as the comments were, they were essentially envious. "That's what a Hollywood career will do for you!" enthused Crawford.
Inevitably, with his official entry into the race, Thompson will lose a little luster as he morphs from above-the-fray candidate-in-waiting to flesh-and-blood (not to mention bloodied) combatant. Still, the lure of his manly charms should not be underestimated. As Bob Davis, a former Thompson staffer now chairing the Tennessee Republican Party, puts it, "When you put your children to bed at night, and you're laying your head down on your pillow, this is a guy people would trust to protect their backside no matter what happened."
This is an especially potent lure with the Republican Party feeling so lost and fragile. Just last month, former Thompson sweetie Lorrie Morgan predicted to the Sunday Times of London that Thompson will prove irresistible to women voters: "He's majestic. He's a soft, safe place to be, and that could be Fred's ticket. Women love a soft place to lay and a strong pair of hands to hold us." Team Thompson is betting that, these days, the same may be said of the entire GOP.
I've been calling them The Baby Party for a long time. They are now literally reverting to infancy.
These Republicans need to see some professionals about this problem. Tiny silicone penises on action dolls and fantasies of a big gruff manly man with a "strong pair of hands to hold us" are cries for help and this country needs to hold a massive intervention. November 2008 sound good to you?