Thursday, July 10, 2008

Paternal Politics

Now that Jesse Jackson has reassured us about Barack Obama's genitals, it's time to consider what prompted the Reverend's rage--the candidate's criticism of African-American fathers for failing their children--as part of a larger subtext of this election.

On all sides, it involves issues about American manhood in the 21st century and the troubling rites of passage from one generation to the next.

Start with George W. Bush who was moved to take up a war left unfinished by paternal prudence and turned toward "a higher Father" for guidance.

Enter John McCain, son and grandson of Admirals who, after writing "Faith of My Fathers," is campaigning for the White House based on the premise that the Head of State in an age of terror should be a reassuring paterfamilias.

Then there is Obama, searching for a father he never knew in "Dreams from My Father" and, in his presidential campaign, calling out men who aren't there for their children and challenging them to take up their responsibilities.

Add to the oedipal mix the outraged reaction of Jesse Jackson's son at his attack on Obama for raising such questions, and there is an overarching issue about American manhood in our time.

Aside from all else, voters will be choosing between John McCain's macho approach and Barack Obama's nurturing, protective style at the head of the national table.

Hillary Clinton's candidacy would have raised the question of whether such gender stereotypes are the only choices, but the answer to that will have to wait for another time.

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