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Stand By Your (Real) Man

By Susan Burke Steege · September 29th, 2004 · Living Out Loud
My children have reached an age when I feel it's time for them to pay more attention to local and national news and politics. This goes beyond simply providing them with regular editions of CityBeat.

I've always encouraged my kids to think critically about the world around them and have tried to introduce them to alternative points of view. The result hasn't been the culmination of worldly children (They still like their hot dogs), but very inquisitive ones with the most detailed questions -- always arising right before bedtime.

This election year, for instance, my two older boys want to know what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat and what party their father, other family members and I belong to.

The Democratic and Republican National Conventions were beginning and I thought this would be a good opportunity for them to see how different political ideas and agendas are expressed -- insofar, anyway, as it relates to the two mainstream agendas.

We began watching the first evening of the Democratic National Convention. They were disappointed and thought the whole event was boring. They ultimately forgot about the election process and decided they would be much happier building Legos or playing Monopoly.

This was actually a fortunate turn of events. By the time the Republican National Convention (RNC) came to play, I would have needed to cover their ears, snap off the television and send my children to bed, embarrassed that I exposed them to such inappropriate viewing.

Scary leaders

I'm aware that Halloween has come early this year for President Bush, as evidenced by the broad range of costumes and disguises that he's been trying on lately: Texas cowboy, West Virginia steelworker, fighter pilot, Iraqi Rambo, bass pro fisherman. But I was totally unprepared for the violent and angry media blitz that unfolded during the RNC.

Zell Miller alone, with his screams of outrage, hostile antagonism and Democratic assaults, would have sent my oldest child screaming to his room due to the large amount of spit Miller spewed all over our television screen. My son would have thrown himself around my ankles begging that I not leave the house, afraid that this monstrous man would hunt me down and squash me, his mom, a Democrat.

As for Dick Cheney, my other child would have convinced me that I needed to leave the country immediately, afraid that he would come knocking at the door accompanied by a SWAT team and arrest anyone who expressed any dissatisfaction with President Bush or the current Republican administration, tagging us with such treasonous labels as "un-American" and "unpatriotic." Off to jail mom would go.

The fact of the matter is the RNC and the current administration have sunk to the use of sheer propaganda, coupled with alienation, dehumanization and fear to bully, coerce and frighten people into believing that theirs is the right and therefore only real true authority. Those who disagree are threats and are discredited.

Illegitimate attempts to identify with and re-create the American image has replaced any true statements or perceptions of fact, while issues affecting our everyday lives have been replaced by illusions and costumes designed to perpetuate false images.

Bush, for instance, is not a cowboy ­ he's not even from Texas, but from Connecticut. He doesn't ride horses, wear spurs or walk in cow shit. He has no clue what it's like to work in a coal mine, a steel mill or a factory in order to support a family of five.

I don't believe that he really even cares, as evidenced by his domestic policies. If he did care, he might actually have a plan for affordable health care, a plan for an improved educational system, an increase in the minimum wage and support of jobs and growth industries within the United States.

He should have talked about these issues during and after the RNC, instead of deceitfully projecting this good ol' boy image that implies that by voting for him, you are voting for one of your own.

Arnold Schwarzenegger adeptly capitalized on this same imagery by claiming that, as a poor kid from Austria, he saw communism firsthand and never dreamed that he could grow up to become governor of California. How many of us subsequently conjured images of the communists riding in on horses and throwing dirt at the children or knocking old ladies onto the streets?

Bush, Schwarzenegger, Bill O'Reilly and all others who portray themselves as poor or blue collar should serve as a slap in the face to the real blue collar families, to the real and ever shrinking middle class and to the once termed "poor," but now destitute in this country. Schwarzenegger's father was a policeman. My father was a postal worker. I guess that makes me trash.

Likewise, Bush is the farthest person from blue collar that his blue blood dynasty can get, and O'Reilly grew up in what equates to living just outside Hyde Park -- not technically in Hyde Park, but across the street, so he can remember feeling deprived.

The point is the majority of us grew up more middle class than those privileged and Hollywood asses, and the bigger news is that the odds are growing less likely that we, as a whole, will ever improve our current economic condition but will only sink further down, especially with the current administration in office.

The return of the real white man

What happens to those who voice their opposition? Those, according to Arnold, are "girly men." While this seems funny, it speaks to a recurrent theme used by Republicans to dehumanize and diminish the stature of all Democrats. Well, Democratic men that is, because apparently women have no place in this campaign.

Male dominance is on the rise and the testosterone is flowing. Cheney brought his Charles Bronson costume out of the closet early by telling people to "fuck off" and saying how good it feels. No way Bronson would apologize. He kept the costume on, unabashedly keeping a hand in Halliburton while profiteering on the war and daring anyone to take a stand against him. Cheney displays a heart of coal matched in smallness only by the Grinch, projecting an image of war and fear while running on an anti-gay, anti-minority and anti-truth ticket.

I agree with him though, that Sept. 11 should serve as a wake-up call, but not the kind of wake-up call he's projecting, not the vigilantism that refuses to "request a permission slip."

Perhaps we should wake up and take a strong look at our foreign policies and our perspective of who we are in the world. America has become a virtual island nation, irrationally trying to protect its borders from influence and believing that we can and should be independent of the outside world.

Sept. 11 and the 1,000 dead U.S. military personnel should serve as a profound question mark that asks if we are doing the right thing. Can we honestly say to the souls of those who perished and to their survivors that we are fighting a legitimate and justified war? Whatever your response, it's a question that deserves to be asked and answered.

Ah but wait, this is sissy stuff. Attacks on intellectualism, sensitivity, ingenuity of forming alliances, a respect for peace and welfare and support of those less fortunate have been ridiculed, belittled and smashed into a proverbial pulp of nothingness by Miller, Schwarzenegger, Cheney and Bush. This I cannot allow my children to watch and I cannot understand why it's not the topic of Sunday sermons throughout the country. Periodically, even Halloween becomes scrutinized for its heathen origins.

Why people are buying into it is even more difficult to figure out, except to think that the polarization of America has not been so great since the Civil War, when it becomes possible that each of us can become the enemy. When the available pie becomes diminished, anyone who brings a fork to the table had better be invited. And those not making the invitation list are growing.

The perception remains that blacks take jobs based on racial quotas and the Indian, Asian, Arab or Hispanic American workers serve as additional economic threats. Yet because of bigotry and discrimination, people forget that these workers happen to be American, too. Ironically, the tactics of hate and separation are used among those who are least likely to benefit from this administration, yet who are predisposed to harbor these flaws for fear of displacement.

Happy days are back, and so is the image of the real man -- the real white man. But this time they have been given disguises, such as NASCAR man, hunting, fishing or boating man, steelworker, coal miner and ironworker man.

These are the images that are called upon to kick some Iraqi ass. Iraq was the only real issue discussed at the RNC and remains the only real agenda issue of the Republican Party. However, it's been used to mask an illegitimate war, an illegitimate president, a domestic and foreign policy in dire straits and as a desperate attempt to preserve a way of life that involves dominance by monopolistic corporations and individuals.

It's time to barricade the women and the children within the village while the real men head off to the castle in order to capture Frankenstein's monster. ©



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