Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time to re-think what it means to be a "tough guy"

Anyone who reads here regularly knows that one of my very favorite writers is Ta-Nehisi Coates. I'll read anything he has to say about race, culture, and politics.

But he blew it in his latest column in the New York Times. Sure, he starts off great...talking about how Republican bullies have changed their tune from calling President Obama weak in 2008 to casting him as the big divisive meanie this time around.
Among the ranks of bullies, the only fair fight is the one that ends with them laughing and kicking sand. And so, no longer able to portray Obama as weak, the authors of Willie Horton, swift-boating and modern day poll-taxing have been reduced to other tactics — among them wildly yelping, “Please, Mr. President, nothing to the face.”
But then he totally blows it by doing something that drives this woman crazy...he equates violence with strength and Obama to Cheney in that department.
Obama’s tough guy bona fides were largely built on the expansive bombing campaign he launched against Al Qaeda, a campaign that regards due process and the avoidance of civilian casualties as indulgences...

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama earned the G.O.P.’s mockery. Now he has earned their fear. It is an ambiguous feat, accomplished by going to the dark side, by walking the G.O.P.’s talk, by becoming the man Dick Cheney fashioned himself to be.
First of all, I'd suggest that perhaps Coates has spent too much time reading the rantings of his fellow Atlantic contributor Conor Friedersdorf - who takes every opportunity available to cast President Obama as the heartless killer of innocents - and not enough time balancing that with someone like Daniel Klaidman - who literally wrote the book on the drone war.
In this overheated election season, Obama’s campaign is painting a portrait of a steely commander who pursues the enemy without flinching. But the truth is more complex, and in many ways, more reassuring. The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again.
But to compare President Obama to Dick Cheney...really?!!! The man who is probably MOST responsible for lying the country into invading Iraq and the killing of over 100,000 civilians, not to mention his reveling in the idea of the use of torture as an intelligence tool? That is simply unconscionable.

However, my biggest beef with Coates transcends all that. Even if you want to critique President Obama for his use of drone strikes against al Qaeda, I would dispute that as any kind of clear definition of "tough guy bona fides."

Dick Cheney was one of the world's best examples of a coward - someone who refused to fight himself - but was willing to risk the lives of others in a needless war.

And so I find the equation of this kind of violence with strength to be anathema. It is as if we equated a wife-beater with strength because he picked on someone half his size.

As we see from Klaidman's writing, the drone war is clearly a moral dilemma with which President Obama has struggled. It is in that very struggle that we might find an example of strength.

But President Obama demonstrated his strength to me a long time ago. He did that back in January 2010 when he took on the entire Republican congressional caucus at their Baltimore retreat. Or when he invited Paul Ryan to his speech on deficit reduction in April 2011 and then proceeded to tear Ryan's budget apart - while he looked him square in the eye.

Women have been working for a long time on re-defining what it means to be "feminine." But I'd suggest to Coates that men like him need to start working on what it means to be "masculine," especially in regards to "tough guy bona fides."


  1. Coates, in this instance seems very much like a young columnist desperate to establish his "bona fides" as a very serious thinker. In order to appear scruplously even-handed he must attack both the Republicans and President Obama. I must confess I am not nearly as taken with Coates as Smartypants is but I am suprised to see him slumming. The Cheney comparison is entirely spurious, cheap, and more worthy of Fire Dog Lake or some such hive of stupidity and scum.


  2. Femininity does not equal femaleness. Femaleness is biological gender. Femininity is a set of degrading behaviors that indicate a woman's acceptance of her role as a dehumanized member of the sex class.

    Likewise, maleness does not equal masculinity. The tough-guy act is dominance behavior - which is a long-winded way of saying "bullying".

  3. Being male or female is genetic, and nothing more. The idea of masculine or feminine is a social construct, and in our society rules more by Madison avenue than the society it's self.

    To be an adult, either male or female, means to do for any given circumstance what needs to be done, without seeking credit, attention, or reimbursement. Example. Moms and dads generally do what need to be done to raise good children to be good adults. And also generally they do this for no other reason than because it's what needs to be done!

    The more we kick the idea that advertising dictates social norm to the curb, the more we can be adult men and women.

  4. 'Afternoon, Ms. Pants

    Hmmmm....As you say, and I agree, Coates is quite good. And, he's very established as well. He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. Like anyone, though, sometimes he can write some stuff and all that can be done is head scratching. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often and this is why he, and I think you'd agree, is definitely as followed as he is.

    So, yes...while I THINK I know what he's trying to say, REALLY disagree with how he's saying it. And, I'll point out that this, actually, isn't the first time Coates has done this. There has been some back and forth amongst some of the black intelligensia re: PBO bein' "soft". Has been happening ever since he took the oath. And, he, too, has wrestled with trying to understand PBO. And, here I'll point out what has been said by none other than Jack White. He said: 'Not only will white America have to get used to Barack Obama, black America will, too'. On this point, sage wisdom from Jack (and, you've seen from him as well a lot of "traditional" kinds of thinking).

    What drives a LOT of people just inSANE about PBO is that he goes his OWN way. He is NOT bothered about earning any kind of bona fides - particularly being seen as a "tough guy". HOW many times have you posted his film clip about how he operates? HOW many times do you write about his "ruthless strategy" (and, again, as you see, you are gonna have to continue to do this)?? He takes his job seriously and has done what has needed to be DONE. NOT as a damn cowboy, but as one of the more thinking, compassionate men we have EVER seen to inhabit this office.

    You point out two of my favorite examples of - if ya just HAVE to see some moxie - him doin' JUST that. One of the metaphors I like to use is this....

    MANY of us, and in this case this is what Coates appears to be doing, think the only way to "kill" the Republicans is with a sledge hammer. I mean, that is what a LOT on the Left REALLY want. BLUDGEON the fuckers. It's the MANly way. But, here comes this Barack Obama guy. And, he just happens to be the most adept politician we have EVER seen....using a scalpel. "He's weak, he's a wuss, he's not LEADING..." In the mean time, that Barack Obama guy NEVER stopped. He KEPT ON. Quietly using that scalpel. VERY little fan fare. And, Mitt Romney just last week yelled "mommie". See, a scalpel in VERY skilled hands will "kill" one just as "dead". And, that's some of the beauty of this very elegant man. They're "dead" and they don't even know it!

    1. Yep - doing it HIS OWN way - and showin' us how its done.

      They're "dead" and they don't even know it!


      I'm thinking Coates still has a bit of work to do shedding his "street culture" if he's going to really "get" Obama. He's come a long way though.


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