Cultural Caviar

Hormonal Politics

November 07, 2012

Multiple Pages
Hormonal Politics

I’m writing my weekly column the evening before Election Day for you to read starting an hour after the polls close on the West Coast. As you may have noticed, I’ve strenuously avoided making any election predictions, and I’m definitely not going to start now.

So, let’s reflect instead upon the seldom-mentioned oddness of Barack Obama running for re-election as the Feminist Avenger obsessed with halting the Republican War on Women, when Obama is among the least feminist Democratic politicians out there.

Obama’s appointment of the feminists’ bête noire Larry Summers as his chief economic adviser after the 2008 election was hardly an anomaly. Not surprisingly, women in the Obama Administration felt excluded in the West Wing’s boy’s club atmosphere. Christina Romer and Co. wound up having to sit Obama down and threaten to make a public stink over how Obama’s favorite bullyboys were intimidating the ladies.

The major exception in the White House has been Valerie Jarrett, but Obama likes her less for her sex than for her race, class, and similarly exotic biography. Also, as his wife’s old boss from the Daley Administration, Jarrett’s West Wing clout reassures the suspicious but slightly clueless First Lady.

By the way, has anybody noticed through the Comedy Blockade that the Obamas’ marital relationship rather curiously resembles that of old-fashioned radio comedies like The Bickersons, TV shows such as The Honeymooners and The Flintstones, or cartoon strips like The Lockhorns, in which the purported man of the house is in perpetual fear of upsetting his nagging helpmate, requiring him to sneak off for frequent rounds of relaxing golf?

“Neither is a big man, but Sinise looks like he lifts weights.”

Obama has never taken white feminists seriously. The only bit of feminist boilerplate I noticed in Obama’s 150,000-word memoir was a single clause within a long sentence. Indeed, resentment of his working mother and grandmother is a constant theme running through his pointedly entitled Dreams from My Father. You can tell how un-African-American Obama is by upbringing from his passive-aggressive sniping at his mother and grandmother, something that a normal black man just wouldn’t do.

Over the years, Obama’s treatment of his pioneering female bank executive grandmother, who paid for the bulk of his posh education, has been noteworthy in its nastiness. In his celebrated 2008 Philadelphia speech, for instance, he compared her to Rev. Jeremiah Wright over her supposed racism for wanting a ride to work because she feared being mugged by a black drifter who had been hassling her at the bus stop. This hurt the strapping youth’s feelings. Over a decade later in his memoir, he described the emotional impact on himself of his grandmother’s worries about her safety as a “fist in my stomach.”

In 2011, Obama took the opportunity of his one meeting with biographer David Maraniss to call attention to his grandmother’s “alcoholism” (see p. 287 of Barack Obama: The Story.) Thanks, Mr. President, glad you pointed that out for us so we can remember her that way. Classy.

Still, the Obama campaign found it in their self-interest to unleash the Feminist Fury of 2012. I particularly liked Slate’s doggedly obedient compendium of complaints about shortages of women in ever more implausible fields, which climaxed with the curiously named Matthew J.X. Malady’s September 28th article about the pressing issue of gender inequality in the ranks of football coaches: “Sidelined: Why are there still no women coaching men’s sports? And why don’t we care?

It was all pretty funny, but it was also depressing because the steady decline of feminism until this year has been our one solid example that the human race can still make intellectual progress in the 21st Century against the prevailing taboos. When friends despaired, I would cheer them up by pointing out that at least almost nobody believes in feminism anymore the way they did during the Anita Hill brouhaha of 1991, back when aggrieved feminist dim bulbs like Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolfe were treated as giants of human thought.

In reality, the vaunted gender gap in voting behavior is fairly small compared to the huge marriage gap. Why? Because as Henry Kissinger liked to say, in the battle between the sexes, there will never be a final victor because there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.

And yet, it’s worth thinking about sex hormone influences on voting. One of the funnier examples of the current Feminist Frenzy was CNN spiking a health post about the impact of women’s monthly cycles on their political leanings. In the struggle to re-elect Obama, no untoward thought can be allowed to go unresented and unrepressed by the auxiliary thought police.

In contrast, a recent Economist article, Political strength: A man’s muscle power influences his beliefs,” on a different evolutionary psychology study of the political impact of male hormones aroused little uproar:

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would.

The politics of women, on the other hand, were uninfluenced by their muscularity. Sensibly, “Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so.”

This correlation between male muscularity and politics seems plausible to me, especially with the researchers’ clever distinction between proclaimed ideology and political self-interest. (I would expect that strength also correlates with solidarity, that team spirit is stronger on the football field than on, say, the tennis team.)

For example, the rare out-of-the-closet Republican in Hollywood is typically an action movie star.

Likewise, the strong right arm of the Democratic Party was long a beefy union guy in a windbreaker. Or, in the case of my late father-in-law, the classical tuba-playing head of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, a beefy union guy in a tuxedo. To weedier musicians, he looked like what he was: a big man who wouldn’t back down in negotiations with the bosses.

In contrast, liberal college professors are frequently ectomorphic runners.

This study raises the follow-on question of whether political predilections are in-born, or if changes in exercise routines can influence opinions.

I often read liberals lamenting how much, holding demographics equal, the country has shifted to the right since the good old days of the mid-1970s. (Note: the mid-1970s may not have been that good for you.)

It occurs to me now that 1974, when the Democrats swept Congress, might have been the skinniest year in recent American history. The jogging craze had been kicked off by Frank Shorter’s gold medal in the 1972 Olympic marathon. And weightlifting was completely out of fashion, endorsed mostly by weirdoes like that freakish Austrian bodybuilder with all those consonants in his name.

I don’t know how to explain to younger people just how absurd the idea that muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger would someday be elected governor of California would have struck people in 1974. By 1984, however, a profile of Schwarzenegger in Rolling Stone wisely devoted a paragraph to explaining that Arnold was Constitutionally ineligible to become President.

Here’s an extremely anecdotal Hollywood example of the political correlates of lifting v. running. Consider two television stars of highly rated cop shows: Gary Sinise (CSI: NY) and Mark Harmon (NCIS). These two actors strike me as reasonably comparable, perhaps because I used to see them around my son’s high school, Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks, where their children went. And, I’ve admired both Sinise and Harmon for their work long before they became television leading men. Sinise was the artistic director in the 1980s of Chicago’s great Steppenwolf theater. And Harmon had a 17-5 won-loss record quarterbacking my favorite college football team, UCLA, in 1972-73.

If I’d had to guess their political causes based on their biographies – Sinise the Chicago theater kid whose father was a film editor v. Harmon the Bel-Air jock whose dad, Tom Harmon, won the 1940 Heisman Trophy – I would have bet on Sinise as a liberal and Harmon as a conservative.

In reality, their political activism is closer to the body types they’ve worked to develop and maintain. Neither is a big man, but Sinise looks like he lifts weights. Even though Harmon is the rare Hollywood star who was a genuine football hero – his slight frame must have taken a tremendous beating as the running QB of the Bruins’ wishbone offense – he hasn’t been much into putting on muscle since. Instead, he’s a distance runner.

Sinise is one of Hollywood’s most outspoken activists in a variety of conservative and patriotic causes. More than a few Republican operatives would like Sinise to carry on the Reagan-Schwarzenegger tradition by running for office.

In contrast, Harmon has been a gun control activist since his wife Pam Dawber’s costar Rebecca Schaefer was murdered by some stalker with a gun in 1989.

I don’t expect anybody to be terribly persuaded by this Sinise-Harmon comparison. My point, though, is that the proposition that different types of exercise could drive political views could be ethically tested on college students by offering free personal trainers. Randomly assign some volunteers to the weightlifting trainer, others to the running trainer, and measure if their attitudes change along with their shapes.

As Obama’s calculatedly divisive 2012 campaign demonstrates, the future of politics may look much stranger than what we’re familiar with. The parties will likely want to research how they can mold their own voters.

 

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