Sunday, November 09, 2008

First Lady

Our new president is understandably both a unifying and polarizing force. There's the obvious: He's a member of the feared and dreaded Ivy League Educated Elite in a country where most people aren't. He's young and relatively inexperienced. And of course, he's, well, different from us. Years ago, Toni Morrison wrote an essay where she claimed that we had our first black president: Bill Clinton. Of course, she meant this metaphorically, but you'd think that would have broken some ground for a man whose skin color is a bit more literal, and maybe it did. But that wasn't his only problem getting elected. Barack Obama is not only our first African-American president, he's also our first woman president.

Why do I say this? I'll state it in terms of the criticisms against him. "He's *articulate*". He speaks of things with nuance. In other words, he displays the willingness to talk at length and in detail and back and forth about topics in ways that women are frequently known for doing. Men talk in monosyllables. Men decide (are Deciders). Men pick a path and stick to it and don't waver and don't look at both sides of the issue because the other side of the issue is wrong and entertaining it would be showing indecision. Besides, they say so.

To be obvious, G.W. "Please-Don't-Let-The-Door-Hit-You-In-The-Ass-As-You-Leave" Bush, is the latter. He never changed his mind or admitted to being wrong. Circumstances might have changed ("The hurricane was larger than anyone imagined"), and new facts might have come to light ("OMG. The economy! Who woulda thunk it!"), and the people don't always behave correctly ("Who knew there were three kinds of Islamics"). It was Not. His. Fault.

This kind of man admits his mistakes grudgingly, at best. Not that all women do, but in the face of failure, there are autopsies and dissections, and post mortems, ad nauseam. How many conversations have I overheard (eavesdropped upon) between two women discussing a break-up that go like, back and forth and here's where it was him and here's where it was me, and maybe I did it because of x. Obama, has at least once already owned up to being wrong. Yeah, he'd once said the 'surge' in Iraq would fail, but he called that one wrong. I was wrong. Here's why I thought it. Thanks. Let's move on.

Men do and women talk. Presidents do and Diplomats talk. Diplomats have gotten us to the mess we're in and we need a man to straighten things out. You don't want a woman doing a man's job. That's why we need a president who can land on an aircraft carrier and tell it to us straight, in regular people's words.

We had a candidate for the first woman president and she lost in the semi-finals. That's because she was not only too much of a woman, but not enough of a woman. As (I think) Camile Paglia said, "She reminds men of their first wives." She was strident, but she also cried that one time, but they weren't really real tears, and also, she wasn't pretty, and her voice was kind of deep and she was really too manly. She was bossy, but didn't flatter us, she told us what to do, but not in the right way. She didn't laugh at our jokes, or touch us on the arm when we talked. In other words, she faced the conundrum that so many women in positions of power have described: you have to be competent, but you have to make the men feel important, and certainly, certainly, don't be a bitch. There is a certain something you are supposed to be and if you're not, you're out.

And not only would Hillary not sleep with us, but who would want to? On the other hand, we had that other woman presidential candidate, our flower of the tundra, our Frontier Mom pulling the ox-cart with a baby in one hand and a Bible in the other, a water carrier and a wood chopper, darner of socks, and shooter of moose: Mrs. Sarah Wasilla. She was all of those things but most of all, she was Hawt. She was your friend's mom, the reason you really liked to hang out at his house. She showed a little knee. She was a MILF. And she was that other type: the airhead, the ditz, the cheerleader, the dip-shit, the two wine cooler date you screw and never talk to again, the one your friends hear about in great detail. Not the kind of girl -- sorry, woman  -- you respect in the morning.

This is why Obama won. He gets the best of all worlds. He's calm without being passive. He's speaks in low tones. He's delicate without being effeminate. In other words, he's the type of woman who can't be portrayed as a caricature or a cookie cutter stereotype. That's because he's real. He's that other woman altogether: The single mom. Calm, unflappable, always more rational than her volatile ex-husband. She cleans up the beer bottles and the vomit and wakes up early to get the kids to school. She wasn't the one who walked out on the family. Unlike her ex, she can't afford the luxury of temper tantrums or falling apart, because she's too busy keeping it together.

Then there's the whole size thing. Women are small, men are tall. Every time he appears with Michelle, I think, "wow, he's small, and wow, she really big." He's slight and she's substantial. She has a big head with wide features and large hair and he's slim and narrow and closely cropped. She's broad-shouldered and he's delicate. For his ability to communicate and entrance, Obama is sometimes compared to Reagan. Physically, he and his wife are like Ronnie and Nancy, just in reverse.

This is who he is and that's the situation we're in. After years of drinking and failing to pay the bills, the man of the house left the house. After all of that getting into fights with the neighbors, hocking your engagement ring, and building that crappy shed in the back that he never finished and left full of oil cans and tattered girlie mags, here you are: 3 kids, a high school education, bills in pink envelopes and the phone ringing off the hook. Why freak out? It would just waste energy and besides, you don't have to deal with his drunken rages or late night absences anymore. We're America and you're mom, Barack.

Hi, Mom!

1 comment:

Fred Wickham said...

Great essay, Tony.