Daddies, Dictators, and Nuking Iran

April 14, 2006

All this talk about Bushco wanting to pepper Iran with nuclear bunker-busters is blowing my mind. Every time I think he has reached the outer limits of dangerous incompetence, the president surprises me with a new horrible idea to propagate destruction, division, instability, poverty, sickness, and death.

A man with something to prove is a very dangerous man. In her column today, Ellen Goodman talks about Bush’s manufactured manliness: he steadily leaked discredited classified information to create fear amongst the masses, then started a war so he could swoop in to play the righteous hero/protector. (Just like the villainous Buddy in The Incredibles!)

A stock figure of the election cycle was the soccer mom transformed into the security mom. This was the woman scared right — into the arms of the president.

Goodman references Harvard conservative Harvey Mansfield’s book, “Manliness,” wherein women like to change diapers and manly men like to display “confidence in the face of risk” and therefore thrive on war and conflict. Of course, there is good and bad manliness: firefighter good, terrorist bad.

So Mansfield believes we need to bolster the “good” manliness to protect us from the “bad” manliness. “Manliness is the only remedy for the trouble it causes,” he writes. But here is where the scam clicks in. He calls on women to accept, jolly, humor and respect manly men as a way of muting their danger.

…But sometimes we have to just ask: How well have humoring and jollying muted the dangers of war or honor killings, wife-beating or ethnic cleansing? Haven’t we shown too much respect for people whose blood rushes to conflict?

No shit!  I am reminded of George Lakoff’s idea that conservatives adhere to a “strict father” model of family, in contrast to liberals’ “nurturant parent” view,  where the parents share authority.

Growing up, my parents adhered to the “strict father” model, as espoused by the church. At some point during my childhood, I began to wonder why my mother always stood behind my father’s decisions and actions, particularly the ones that were destructive to our family. He was an emotional and impulsive leader who was easily and frequently angry. Punishment was reflexive, never deliberative.

The problem with the authoritarian father model of both family and government is that sometimes, the father figure is a man with something to prove. And will sacrifice many things to attend to his bruised ego.  

Beware the call of the old manliness. Beware the man who ramps up the danger and offers himself as hero and security blanket. And beware the leader whose unwavering, unflappable, unnuanced and unjustified confidence in the face of risk becomes our disaster.