Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cheap Shots

Earlier this week, conservative columnist Debra Saunders slammed President Obama for being photographed during his Martha's Vineyard vacation riding a bicycle while wearing a helmet.

Granted, the pose and the helmet did make him look something of a dork. But imagine the firestorm of public outcry that would have erupted if he were photographed without a helmet -- you'd hear criticism ranging from his obligation to serve as a role model to children all the way to his responsibility of protecting the brain that holds the codes that trigger nuclear attack.

This is a familiar tactic of the GOP, to besmirch the masculinity of a Democratic politician or candidate. It wasn't so long ago that the abhorrent Ann Coulter called former Senator and presidential hopeful John Edwards a "faggot." (This was before the revelation that an affair with an aide had resulted in an illegitimate child.) Coulter, who inexplicably makes morning show TV appearances attired in a cocktail mini as though she were some sort of Beltway hooker, eventually retracted, saying she hadn't meant Edwards was gay, she was just using the word as a schoolyard taunt. Right. This is the same woman who once stated that she found Dick Cheney's crooked corporate raider leer "sexy," so it's obvious that it's power, not sex appeal, that floats her boat.

Oddly, the same people who are so quick to paint Democratic leaders as friends of Dorothy make a practice of branding female leaders like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer as "bitches." What successful women in politics or, for that matter, the business world haven't been recipients of that charge?

Sarah Palin is the casebook pro at this maneuver, sneering at peers who actually read newspapers and don't shoot wolves from pontoon planes. It's like the Republicans are the fat redheaded bullies of the schoolyard calling out rude names at the smart kids, and the Democrats' response is always to just tuck their books under their arms and head for French lab.

It's not like I want to see the President of the United States harpooning whales like Soviet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (as it turns out, he was only assisting scientists in obtaining skin samples, a fact that conservatives like Saunders omit when comparing the two world leaders). But it would be helpful to his image, and to the political future of our country, if he used his intelligence and charm to rebuke criticism in a way that was more forceful and self-assured. Bullies don't deserve kid glove treatment.

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