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Voice Male - Winter 2005

Co-Directors' Voice

The Militarization of Politics

by Michael Dover and Rob Okun

From Michael Moore practically begging retired general Wesley Clark to enter the primaries, to the eventual nominee's first words at his party's convention--"I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty!"--the militarization of our political life provided the foundation for the campaign of 2004. Lest he feel slighted, etched into memory is the sight of George W. Bush in his flight suit on the deck of an aircraft carrier proclaiming "Mission Accomplished." That before another several hundred of our young men and women (and thousands of Iraqis) met their deaths in his ongoing quagmire of mass deception.

Senator Kerry, a man who in a sense began his political career as an antiwar advocate, chose to stand before the nation as a war hero, telling the American people they could trust him to use as much force as George W. Bush had used--and more, if necessary. Over the course of the campaign both Bush and Kerry surrounded themselves with veterans and retired generals to underscore the notion that strength equates with the willingness to commit great violence. It's probably no surprise to our readers that we both personally worked to defeat the newly elected president. Practically speaking, doing so was an act of support for Kerry. Despite his rhetoric about increasing the size of the military and all the ways he would make us tougher, we believed him to be capable of a much more layered and nuanced approach to solving the problems we face in the world. To us, Mr. Bush represents a serious threat to the peace and safety of all of us, and not just those who don't share his questionable faith-based values. We fear for the country and the world now that Bush has actually won a term in office. Having said that, we regret not only Bush's but Kerry's belligerent stance when it came to world affairs.

Kerry's militaristic posturing reflected his campaign's understanding of what the voters wanted to see and hear. Bush's one-dimensional response to the September 11 attacks and his obsession with attacking any and all perceived enemies successfully framed the electoral debate. There was no room for talking about the origins of terrorism in the poverty and oppression around the world--often underwritten by U.S. foreign policy and interests. There was no possibility of reflecting on why the United States is viewed as a bully in so many countries, friend and foe alike. How could there be from someone who revels in joking that "swaggering" is just Texas-speak for "walking"?

We're drawn inevitably to the connection between the campaign rhetoric and our culture's stereotypical view of masculinity. This was not an election in which people were looking for a nurturing male, a reflective or even careful thinker. Fear, not only of terrorists but also of gay marriage, drove people to seek the man who best embodied the strong, authoritative, even (if necessary) tyrannical father image. Who would be toughest? Who would, in Kerry's terms, "kill and capture" terrorists? Who would protect us from those gender nonconformists who were daring to ask for simple justice and fairness? Who would rule the roost and keep everyone in line?

To be sure, Kerry talked about health care, stem cell research, and economic fairness. It seems, though, that these more "nurturing" messages failed to hold the attention of the electorate. Reports in the aftermath of the election indicated that "moral values" (not Iraq, the war on terror, the economy, health care, etc.) led the list of issues on which most voters based their decision. Election day also saw 11 states voting to define marriage as between a woman and a man. So, was "moral values" actually a code phrase for opposition to gay marriage? Or, more generally, is it nostalgia for traditional patriarchal roles? We think both were implied: keep gays in their place (preferably invisible), and while you're at it, keep men in control and women under control. (Incredibly, vigorously opposing going to war based on lies apparently doesn't hold up as a moral value.) A majority of voters were evidently more interested in someone who would take charge of us than someone who would take care of us.

What this election says about the mood of the country--at least the 51 percent who voted for Bush--tells us that the work of the MRC (and all like-minded organizations) is needed more than ever. If ever we are going to have a society that cares more about the people left behind than the people in power, if ever we are to have a political debate that is more concerned with compassion than with control, then we all have to take on the way boys become men and the way men become empowered. Without these changes, we're afraid that elections will continue to be a countrywide form of "domestic" violence.

Michael Dover can be reached at [email protected]. Rob Okun is at [email protected].

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