One worked in the oil industry and baseball; the other dropped out of college and laid oil pipes out West. Neither speaks too much, preferring action to words. Hobbies? Fly-fishing, with little talking; walking on the ranch. An energy crisis? Drill for more oil. A teaching failure? Test 'em. A surplus? Give it back to the people.
This may be a slightly skewed reading of the political style of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but it gets at something real. On the eve of Father's Day, these men are straight off a 1950s Hallmark card. These guys are guys. They're guyish. The model of their masculinity is definitely retro--stern dads in suits and ties, undemonstrative, matter-of-fact, but with alleged hearts of gold. They tend not to explain much, and they're not the best at intimate chats or hand-holding sessions. Like most dads from the 1950s, they also tend to foster adolescent rebellion. Think of Jim Jeffords as a neglected teenager, finally running away from home.
Chris Matthews once described the Republicans and the Democrats as the Daddy Party and the Mommy Party. But these days, the contrast in leadership style is more old man vs. new man. Compare Bush-Cheney with Clinton-Gore. With the Democratic boomers, we had archetypes of new men. Clinton was a classic. A believer in feminism because it gave him greater opportunities to meet women and have sex, Clinton knew how to disguise his roguish heart with a new man's patter. He talked the talk on women's rights, gave his wife an unelected office and backed abortion rights to the nth degree. But behind the scenes, like most male feminists in the 1970s, he was talking dirty with Vernon Jordan and manhandling the help. He was a new man with an old male agenda.
Gore, in contrast, was a new man with integrity and vulnerable sexuality. Proudly monogamous, he was every woman's dream husband, tonguing his wife's tonsils onstage and parading his gorgeous daughters for votes. He talked endlessly about his feelings, dabbled in New Age profundity, backed gay rights and spoke of his own existential crises. He was a man who would rather gaze at an Internet image of the rotating Earth than get in a rocket and fly to the moon.
Bush, by comparison, has a resume that conforms with every pre-1970s ideal of what real men really do. He was a rebel against his father--but eventually became the most dutiful son. He boozed and pranked his way through college. He went to a y-chromosome graduate school--in business, natch. He then dabbled in oil and baseball. He speaks the language of sports players and frat boys: inarticulate, abrupt and mostly a mix of self-deprecation and merciless teasing of others. Hence the nicknames for colleagues and journalists. Could anything get more guyish?
Cheney completes the picture. In the vice-presidential debate, he gave off the aura of the dad who has been dragged in to resolve a family dispute. Patiently, with occasional sighs and forced smiles, he laid out what he regarded as common sense. And, as if triggered by some deep psychological need, we lapped it up. It was as if Cheney had walked onto the stage, looked straight in the camera and asked, "Who's your daddy?" The heart attacks complete the picture. What other cultural symbol captures the essence of the 1950s dad--the man shouldering the responsibility, absorbing the stress and eating mounds of steak?