Drapes of Wrath
By MAUREEN DOWD
The new Democratic sweep conjures up an ancient image: Furies swooping down to punish bullies.
Angry winged goddesses with dog heads, serpent hair and blood eyes, unmoved by tears, prayer, sacrifice or nasty campaign ads, avenging offenses by insolent transgressors.
This will be known as the year macho politics failed — mainly because it was macho politics by marshmallow men. Voters were sick of phony swaggering, blustering and bellicosity, absent competency and accountability. They were ready to trade in the deadbeat Daddy party for the sheltering Mommy party.
All the conservative sneering about a fem-lib from San Francisco who was measuring the drapes for the speaker’s office didn’t work. Americans wanted new drapes, and an Armani granny with a whip in charge.
A recent study found that the testosterone of American men has been dropping for 20 years, but in Republican Washington, it was running amok, and not in a good way. Men who had refused to go to an untenable war themselves were now refusing to find an end to another untenable war that they had recklessly started.
Republicans were oddly oblivious to the fact that they had turned into a Thomas Nast cartoon: an unappetizing tableau of bloated, corrupt, dissembling, feckless white hacks who were leaving kids unprotected. Tom DeLay and Bob Ney sneaking out of Congress with dollar bills flying out of their pockets. Denny Hastert playing Cardinal Bernard Law, shielding Mark Foley. Rummy, cocky and obtuse as he presided over an imploding Iraq, while failing to give young men and women in the military the armor, support and strategy they needed to come home safely. Dick Cheney, vowing bullheadedly to move “full speed ahead” on Iraq no matter what the voters decided. W. frantically yelling about how Democrats would let the terrorists win, when his lame-brained policies had spawned more terrorists.
After 9/11, Americans had responded to bellicosity, drawn to the image, as old as the Western frontier myth, of the strong father protecting the home from invaders. But this time, many voters, especially women, rejected the rough Rovian scare and divide tactics.
The macho poses and tough talk of the cowboy president were undercut when he seemed flaccid in the face of the vicious Katrina and the vicious Iraq insurgency.
Even former members of the administration conceded they were tired of the muscle-bound style, longing for a more maternal approach to the globe. “We were exporting our anger and our fear, hatred for what had happened,” Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, said in a speech in Australia, referring to the 9/11 attacks. He said America needed “to turn another face to the world and get back to more traditional things, such as the export of hope and opportunity and inspiration.”
Talking about hope and opportunity and inspiration has propelled Barack Obama into the presidential arena. His approach seems downright feminine when compared with the Bushies, or even Hillary Clinton. He languidly poses in fashion magazines, shares feelings with Oprah and dishes with the ladies on “The View.” After six years of chest-puffing, Senator Obama seems very soothing.
Because of the power of female consumers, some marketing experts predict we will end up a matriarchy. This year, women also flexed their muscle at the polls, transformed into electoral Furies by the administration’s stubborn course in Iraq.
On Tuesday, 51 percent of the voters were women, and 55 percent of women voted for the Democratic candidate. It was a revival of the style of Bill Clinton, dubbed our first female president, who knitted together a winning coalition of independents, moderates and suburbanites.
According to The Times’s exit polls, women were more likely than men to want some or all of the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq now, and 64 percent of women said that the war in Iraq has not improved U.S. security.
The Senate has a new high of 16 women and the House has a new high of at least 70, with a few races outstanding. Hillary’s big win will strengthen her presidential tentacles.
Nancy Pelosi, who will be the first female speaker, softened her voice and look as she cracked the whip on her undisciplined party, taking care not to sound shrill. When she needs to, though, she says she can use her “mother-of-five voice.”
At least for the moment, W. isn’t blustering and Cheney has lost his tubby swagger. The president is trying to ride the Mommy vibe. He even offered Madame Speaker help with those new drapes.