Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Man's Field

What do the following things have in common? "I'm the commander." "It is the haircut that will not die." "The need for one-man rule."

The first is a comment by George Bush, the president of the United States. The second is a comment by Roger Simon at the Politico about the hair of John Edwards, a Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States. The third is what Harvey Mansfield believes this country needs at this time of war: the setting-aside of all laws except for the primal testosterone-based right of the strongest male to run the pack.

Glenn Greenwald has written two valuable critiques about the last two of the sentences I chose at the Salon. He points out that while Politico discusses the price of Edwards' haircut, news happen:

This week, the Bush administration sought vastly increased powers to spy on the telephone conversations of Americans, and then threatened to begin spying again illegally and without warrants. It was revealed that Condoleezza Rice would meet with Syrian officials, a significant shift in Middle East policy.

Yesterday, it was disclosed that Iraq's government is actually purging itself of anyone who seeks to impede lawless Shiite militias. And one of the right-wing's most influential academicians published an article on The Wall St. Journal Op-Ed page explicitly advocating "one-man rule" in America whereby the President can ignore the "rule of law" in order to fight The Terrorists.

None of that -- or virtually anything else of even marginal significance -- was reported by The Politico, an online political magazine founded by some of the nation's most prestigious and admired (in Beltway terms) political journalists. But yesterday, The Politico's so-called "chief political columnist," Roger Simon, published a 674-word article -- prominently touted on The Politico's front page -- exclusively about John Edwards' haircuts, cleverly headlined "Hair today, gone tomorrow."

Greenwald's other piece is about an article Harvey Mansfield wrote for the online edition of Wall Street Journal, an article which wants the rule of law to be replaced by a chest-thumping silverback among the chimpanzees. Mansfield has written a lot about masculinity in the past, and his use of the term "one-man rule" is not a slip of the tongue:

The article bears this headline: The Case for the Strong Executive -- Under some circumstances, the Rule of Law must yield to the need for Energy. And it is the most explicit argument I have seen yet for vesting in the President the power to override and ignore the rule of law in order to recieve the glories of what Mansfield calls "one-man rule."

That such an argument comes from Mansfield is unsurprising. He has long been a folk hero to the what used to be the most extremist right-wing fringe but is now the core of the Republican Party. He devoted earlier parts of his career to warning of the dangers of homosexuality, particularly its effeminizing effect on our culture.

He has a career-long obsession with the glories of tyrannical power as embodied by Machiavelli's Prince, which is his model for how America ought to be governed. And last year, he wrote a book called Manliness in which "he urges men, and especially women, to understand and accept manliness" -- which means that "women are the weaker sex," "women's bodies are made to attract and to please men" and "now that women are equal, they should be able to accept being told that they aren't, quite." Publisher's Weekly called it a "juvenile screed."

Greenwald bemoans a media which pays more attention to the haircut diaries than to Mansfield's proposal of setting aside the rule of law (or to the recent news that senior officials in the administration believe the president still has the right to order wiretapping without first seeking court approval):

They write about John Edwards' haircut and John Kerry's windsurfing and which political consultant has whispered what gossip to them about some painfully petty matter, but the extraordinary fact that our nation's dominant political movement is openly advocating the most radical theories of tyranny -- that "liberties are dangerous and law does not apply" -- is barely noticed by our most prestigious and self-loving national journalists. Merely to take note of that failure is to demonstrate how profoundly dysfunctional our political press is.

But in another sense the haircut diaries are simply the other side of the same masculinity coin Mansfield polishes with his sleeve: The story of politics as a manly man's game, to be powered with testosterone and to be judged with those emotions which make one wonder if a man caring about his hair could really tear off someone else's throat with nothing but his teeth. That all this appeared at the same time as George Bush's hopeful comment about being the commander may be purely accidental, of course.
Cross-posted at the TAPPED.