. . . until the New Hampshire primary.
Glenn Greenwald has a terrific post up about Big Fred's tough-guy image. The whole thing bears reading, but here's what jumped out at me:
The only thing that makes Thompson a "tough guy" is that he pretends to be one; he play-acts as one. There is nothing real about it. But in the same way that George Bush's ranch and fighter pilot costumes (along with his war advocacy) sent media stars swooning over his masculinity and "toughness," the Howard Finemans and Mark Halperins, along with the Bush followers in need of a new authoritarian Leader, are so intensely hungry for this faux masculine power that the illusion, the absurd play-acting, is infinitely more valuable to them than any reality, than any genuine attributes of "toughness."
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But the illusion of manliness cliches, tough guy poses, and empty gestures of "cultural conservatism" are what the Republican base seeks, and media simpletons like Fineman, Halperin and Matthews eat it all up just as hungrily. That's how twice-and-thrice-divorced and draft-avoiding individuals like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh become media symbols of the Christian "values voters" and "tough guy," "tough-on-defense" stalwarts.
And it's how a life-long Beltway lobbyist and lawyer who avoided Vietnam, standing next to his twenty-five-year-younger second wife, is held up by our media stars as a Regular-Guy-Baptist symbol of piety and a no-nonsense, tough-guy, super-masculine warrior who will protect us all.
As documented in Stephen Ducat's book The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, the GOP has molded itself as the Party of Men. The Party of Men fears and loathes the feminine. The worst insults it can come up with when describing the Democrats generally are coded representations of femininity--think of the right's obsession with John Edwards' hair and sexuality, little Mike Dukakis riding in that tank, John Kerry looking French, and Bill Clinton's pre-Monica charicature as a pussy-whipped girly-man. As Greenwald might say, this mindset is similar to that of the Cool Kids in high school, casually and cruelly labelling the guys who aren't in their little group as fags.
What Greenwald sees as the desperate desire of the televisual male commentariat to be accepted by the Cool Kids may actually be part and parcel of a redefinition of American masculinity produced bythe GOP's quarter century effort at winning votes by inducing gender anxiety. As a result of this campaign, a whole generation of TV pundits actually believes that Fred Thompson is masculinity personified: I'm a tough guy 'cuz I play one on TV. It's the image--be it Bush's sock-stuffed flight suit orThompson's big fat cigar--that's more masculine than a willingness to fight for one's country, a determination to do what's right instead of what's popular, and a career choice of something other than lawyering, lobbying and acting.