Real men don’t wear costumes
   by Gene Lyons     Posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we.
 They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country
 and our people, and neither do we. "
   —George W. Bush, Aug. 5, 2004.

If nothing else, it’s the job of politicians in this fallen world of
Democrats and Republicans to keep us citizens entertained. Both
presidential candidates have been doing their patriotic best. President
Bush’s malapropisms are a constant source of wonder. Me, I’ve been
trying to decide which classic" Saturday Night Live" sketch the
presidential contest most resembles, "Quien Es Mas Macho" or "The Raging
Queen." If you don’t recall, the "Quien Es Mas Macho" skit featured a
mustachioed Bill Murray as an excitable Hispanic quiz show host.
Contestants speaking bad ninth-grade Spanish answered which was more
virile, "a librarian" or "Senor Lloyd Bridges, investigador submarino."
(Bridges played a skin-diving detective on TV’s "Sea Hunt. ") Even more
politically incorrect were Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi as gay 18 th
century pirates on the good ship" Raging Queen, "bragging about their
manly deeds, tossing salads and volunteering to be flogged.

Still on the defensive about Bush’s own maritime adventure, last year’s
illadvised" Mission Accomplished" aircraft carrier stunt, the president’s
handlers were clearly thrown off balance by John Kerry’s landing in Boston
Harbor with his Vietnam crewmen, a poignant bit of stagecraft. Unlike Bush,
the Democratic candidate had enough sense not to appear in uniform, turning
a patriotic photo op into bathos. Real Men, see, don’t play dress-up.

So strong was the imagery coming out of the Democratic convention that
even Kerry’s photo in a NASA "clean suit," looking like a spermatozoon
out of Woody Allen’s "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were
Afraid to Ask," failed to generate laughter. (Note to Kerry: No costumes,
uniforms or specialized garb between now and November, even a Red Sox cap.
Especially no cowboy hats. Let Bush play Marlboro Man.)

Republicans countered with as vicious a smear against Kerry as we’ve
seen since—well, since the last time George W. Bush ran against somebody
with a higher Testosterone Quotient: the 2000 South Carolina primary,
when little gremlins hinted to suggestible Moron Americans that John
McCain’s years as a Vietnam POW had left him psychologically unfit, and,
oh, did you know he had a black child? (An adopted daughter from
Bangladesh.) As "The Daily Show’s" Jon Stewart put it, maybe they had
him confused with Strom Thurmond.

Thanks in part to McCain’s lingering anger, the so-called Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth succeeded mainly in reminding voters of the 2000
smear. A Real Man, particularly one who’d taken a playboy’s leave from
his own National Guard duties back in the day, would renounce such
tactics. Not Bush.

But let’s get back to the silly stuff, shall we? The question of which
candidate is more masculine exists purely in the realm of TV imagery, a
leftover of Newt Gingrich’s campaign to portray Democrats as "the
enemies of normal Americans." It’s the kind of cartoon thinking we all
fall into part of the time—and stupid people pretty much all the time.
Quick now, which state’s natives are more virile, Texas or

Oh, really? Did you know that NFL Hall-of-Famer turned Radio Shack
pitchman Howie Long, dubbed "the manliest man on earth" on his fan club
Web site, grew up around Boston? So did Oakland Raiders teammate Lyle
Alzado. Broadway choreographer Tommy Tune, meanwhile, hails from Texas.
So does actor Patrick Swayze, who began his career as a ballet dancer.

OK, OK. Look, for all I know, Swayze’s hobby may be bull-riding and Tune
was welterweight champ of the U.S. Marines. That’s roughly my point.
"Quien es mas macho," Red state vs. Blue state? It’s all nonsense.

It’s one thing for the Sporting News to run a jokey article about how
Bush would be the choice to bust "a fastball at Osama bin Laden’s ear."
(Never mind that Kerry played varsity ice hockey and soccer while Bush
was a cheerleader; his opening pitch at Fenway Park did bounce.) Yet
even The New York Times recently asked which presidential hopeful had
the more manly bicycle. Bush. That $3,000 mountain bike he keeps falling
off, see, manifests "a certain daredevil quality," while Kerry’s $8,000
street model bespeaks caution. Never mind that in Texas iconography, a
rancher on a bicycle may as well wear pantyhose and high heels. Real Men
ride horses, a virile pastime I’m proud to share with a couple of
million 12-year-old girls. So how can Kerry win over voters here in
Arkansas? Well, dove season opens in early September. He needs to get in
some televised shooting with Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, the state’s
Democratic senators. Kerry’s said to be a crack wing shot. The
symbolism’s perfect. But let Pryor choose the hats.

• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient
of the National Magazine Award.

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