Monday, February 18, 2008

The Macho Right

Cross-posted at DovBear's blog

In his book The Conservative Soul, bleeding-heart conservative Andrew Sullivan writes, "Even the most passionate of the [Bush] Administration's defenders cannot argue that [waterboarding] is not 'cruel, degrading and inhuman' treatment.... The notion that 'waterboarding' is not torture under the plain meaning of the word as well as its legal meaning is preposterous" (p. 169).

I contrast that with Rudy Giuliani's statement about being unsure whether waterboarding is torture. How do you possibly resolve a disagreement like this? Unless you go to the extreme of testing waterboarding on yourself, as Daniel Levin did, it's basically one person's opinion against another's. Frankly, I doubt the former New York mayor, who built his reputation on dogged machismo, is likely to be swayed by, let's face it, a prissy gay Englishman.

Sullivan attributes the Bush view of torture to "the fundamentalist psyche," which holds that "what matters is his intent, not the empirical analysis" (p. 170). This forms part of Sullivan's larger theory that the world is divided into two types of people, fundamentalists and...well, everyone else, I guess. Into the first category he includes various Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Zionists, Islamists, Nazis, and Communists. He characterizes fundamentalism as hostile toward reason, and among the unreasonable qualities he lists are, oh, a black-and-white "us vs. them" mentality. Hmmmmmmm.

The chip in his theory is that Giuliani is no fundamentalist, by the plain meaning of the word as well as its legal meaning. I therefore propose an alternative theory that is equally simplistic, but at least it knows it is. The assault on reason here is coming not from the Religious Right, but from the Macho Right.

Contrary to popular belief, members of the Religious Right are quite capable of reasoned thought, at least when it suits their purposes. Reason is absolutely irrelevant to members of the Macho Right, who are driven not by reason, but by testosterone.

Even if you've never heard the term, you surely are familiar with the right-wingers who seem to build their whole outlook on machismo. "We gotta be tough on crime. We gotta bomb the commies/Muslims/insert-your-own-enemy back to the Stone Age. We gotta stop the liberals who want to take guns away from the real men who own them."

It's no wonder all those tough-guy movie stars, at least the ones who aren't into martial arts, vote Republican: Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Eastwood, and Willis.

Schwarzenegger, who has never clearly explained why he's a Republican, is a perfect example. You remember when he characterized his Democratic opponents as "economic girlie men" (never mind that he supports universal health care). Then some gay rights organizations, eager to play Charlie Brown to Lucy's football, complained that his remarks were insulting to homosexuals. Uh-huh.

To qualify for the Macho Right, you don't have to be religious. You don't even have to be conservative in a traditional sense. You certainly don't have to be genuinely tough. As we have seen, right-wingers are more than willing to paint true American heroes like John McCain and John Kerry as spineless sissies.

Some notable examples of Macho Rightists in the media are Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly. You remember Savage. He's the guy who got kicked off of MSNBC because he referred to a caller as a "sodomite" and told him to "get AIDS and die."

Savage, an irreligious Jew, can hardly be accused of Bible-thumping. Macho Rightists aren't fueled by the Bible, which may even provide them with some distractions, such as the admonition to love the sinner. They're the types of people who are given to saying things like, "Get your hands off me, you faggot!!!!"

When Hillary Clinton called Ann Coulter "heartless," referencing her book Godless, Coulter replied, "Oh, lighten up, girl." Apparently realizing the flaw in Hillary's approach, Joe Maguire titled his anti-Coulter book Brainless. That of course has more bite, but it still misses the point. Macho Rightists don't care about brains. They care about cojones.

After all, who else is the emblem of the Macho Right today than President George W. Bush, that tough, macho cowboy who's just like...well, certainly not like the folks from Brokeback Mountain. Those are just sissies who herd cows.

I was once listening to a Macho Right acquaintance of mine rail against bicycle helmets. He wasn't talking about government regulation. He simply hated seeing kids wear them, claiming that today's parents are raising a generation of wimps who can't handle the world.

I had a nasty bicycle spill when I was fifteen. I was wearing no helmet or kneepads. Luckily, I didn't land on my head, but what if I had? I might not be here now to talk about the incident.

The experience gives me a slight advantage when arguing with Macho Rightists. I wouldn't stand a chance against them if all I had were statistics and reasoned arguments. When a Macho Rightist talks, there is absolutely nothing you say, no reasoned argument, that can possibly sway them. On the contrary, the slightest appeal to reason makes you sound like the wuss they know you are. The only way to combat their rhetoric is through more macho rhetoric.

Bill O'Reilly has actually used Macho Right logic to argue against the death penalty. He says that we should give the convicts life in prison so that they can suffer more.

It's hard to say how many Macho Rightists there are, but you know them when you hear them. If you ask any of them whether they belong to the Macho Right, they aren't likely to admit it. The term probably reminds them too much of the Village People.

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