Obama, masculinity, blackness, and hoops

It’s going to be hard to feminize a black candidate who plays a fine game of basketball.

A reader writes:

Republicans have a number of tried-and-true tricks for defeating Democratic candidates. One of their best tricks, as Digby often reminds us, is feminizing the opposition. It isn’t reality-based, but it is damned effective. It worked against Kerry, even though his dog was a German Shepherd and George Bush keeps a Scottish Terrier. It worked against Gore. It didn’t work against Clinton, largely because of Clinton’s enormous Elvis factor.

Can the Republicans feminize Barack Obama? He’s no Elvis, that’s for sure. He’s monogamous and scrawny. He’s no war hero, and doesn’t even keep a German Shepherd or a gun. He got fancy grades at fancy schools all his life. As far as I know, he never worked with his hands. He even seems to believe in fair play, enough to base his candidacy on it. Pretty effete, no?

No. He’s black. Black men don’t feminize all that easily. I’m not talking reality, of course, or even Ru Paul. I’m talking about the reptile corner of the American brain that Republicans are so good at exploiting. They’ll try to feminize him. They are trying right now, with the “bitter American” flap-ette. (See how well feminizing works, even on a word like “flap”?) But they won’t succeed. Obama is black and counterpunches when hit. That’s enough. The reptile brain won’t be able to see him as a pansy.

As a general rule, there is no such thing as black skin privilege, whatever the Limbaughs of the world may say. But every rule has exceptions, and I think that one of them applies to Barack Obama’s candidacy. They won’t be able to turn him into a girly-man.

I’m not sure this is right in general. But I’m pretty sure it’s right about Barack Obama. Scrawny or not, he’s very much a guy. If you wanted an actor to play Obama &#8212 in terms of persona rather than appearance &#8212 you’d think about Cary Grant or Sean Connery or Samuel L. Jackson or maybe the Jimmy Stewart of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Not only that, he has some very nice moves on the basketball court.

As a Kos commenter points out, B-ball does double duty: not only is it a very-high-andreia sport, it’s also about as anti-elitist as you can get. (The picture of Kerry wind-surfing really didn’t help his cause.) And as the HBO interviewer notes, B-ball is a religion in Indiana. If I were running the Obama campaign, I’d open all of his basketball games to the TV cameras.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com