FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: MCCAIN NOT A REAL MAN, SAYS LIMBAUGH

One of the best indicators of John McCain's weakness in the general election is the questioning of his manhood by right-wing pundits. Rush Limbaugh--who likes to dress up as a general and command his listener's to foment political violence--took time...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 06/06/2008

One of the best indicators of John McCain's weakness in the general election is the questioning of his manhood by right-wing pundits.

Rush Limbaugh--who likes to dress up as a general and command his listener's to foment political violence--took time out this week to besmirch McCain's maleness, wondering on air if the Republican candidate could really count as 'a man' in the wake of his speech in New Orleans (link).

What prompted Limbaugh to make a negative ruling on McCain's manhood was not that McCain bashed Bush, but that McCain dared to criticize 'government' in his New Orleans speech earlier this week.  What did McCain actually say in New Orleans that made Limbaugh slap down his dress-up-general riding crop beyond his normal paroxysms? This paragraph gives the main thrust of the McCain speech (emphasis mine):

The right change recognizes that many of the policies and institutions of our government have failed. They have failed to keep up with the challenges of our time because many of these policies were designed for the problems and opportunities of the mid to late 20th Century, before the end of the Cold War; before the revolution in information technology and rise of the global economy. The right kind of change will initiate widespread and innovative reforms in almost every area of government policy -- health care, energy, the environment, the tax code, our public schools, our transportation system, disaster relief, government spending and regulation, diplomacy, the military and intelligence services. Serious and far-reaching reforms are needed in so many areas of government to meet our own challenges in our own time. (link)

For playground-soldier Rush Limbaugh, when a Republican gives a speech that questions the effectiveness of government, that forfeits said Republican's status as 'a man.'  What would have earned McCain his 'I'm a man' badge?  Blaming the destruction of New Orleans on liberals, of course (as if you had to ask).

But after reading that New Orleans speech by McCain--the one that has been widely ridiculed in the media since he delivered it on Tue--I noticed that McCain was actually trying to so something astounding.  He was trying to use that speech (1) to bring Reagan-esque themes into the election and (2) to reframe this election as a referendum on 'government,' noit a referendum on 'Bush' (e.g., to undercut the Obama' campaign's framing strategy).

11 times in his New Orleans speech John  McCain used the word 'government.' 11 times!  It was a sure-fire sign that he was trying to set a frame--and that nobody in the media actually noticed he was doing it, nor did they bother to ask 'why' he was doing it.

The reason is simple:  McCain is afraid to bash Bush; so he is trying to make this election a referendum on 'government.'

If, for example, I  swap the words 'George W. Bush for the phrase 'of our government' in the above paragraph from McCain's speech, this is what we get:

The right change recognizes that many of the policies and institutions of George W. Bush have failed. They have failed to keep up with the challenges of our time because many of these policies were designed for the problems and opportunities of the mid to late 20th Century, before the end of the Cold War; before the revolution in information technology and rise of the global economy. The right kind of change will initiate widespread and innovative reforms in almost every area of government policy -- health care, energy, the environment, the tax code, our public schools, our transportation system, disaster relief, government spending and regulation, diplomacy, the military and intelligence services. Serious and far-reaching reforms are needed in so many areas of government to meet our own challenges in our own time. (link)

Yep. That is really what this election is about, but McCain is just too scared to say it.  Instead, he will try to reframe debate in terms of 'government.'

More importantly, perhaps, by critiquing 'government' instead of 'George W. Bush,' McCain is going back to the old hobby horse of Ronald Reagan--patron saint of conservative framing and archetypal Republican manly man's man.

The model for McCain's speech must have been Reagan's oft-cited 'Time for Choosing' speech (1964) in which Reagan railed against government, against the liberal 'elite' who supposedly ran government, and in so doing set a conservative framing strategy that held the debate up to this very year. 

In that 1964 election between Barry Goldwater and the incumbent Lyndon Johnson, Reagan set the frame with phrases like this one:

This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves. (link)

Yep--that is the idea that McCain is trying to dig up and toss into this election almost 45 years later. Interestingly, it is the idea that gets his manhood castigated by the likes of Limbaugh, who no doubt thinks he embodies the true manliness of Reagan.

In reality, the Reaganism that McCain is trying to reclaim is no longer the core idea th guides the voice of American conservatism. Steered by right-wing pundits and fueled by hateful, violent rhetoric, contemporary conservatives no longer say that government is wasteful and inefficient.  Instead, they say that liberalism kills, liberalism supports terrorism, liberalism will lead to the destruction of America. 

No wonder McCain gets called a sissy by Limbaugh when he tries to channel Reagan rather than bash Bush--because Limbaugh has long since left the Reagan legacy behind in favor of the new violent rhetoric of the right.

And the irony does not stop there, because in all likelihood, Limbaugh's bashing of McCain will bully him into conformity--will goad him into retooling his campaign into some kind of 'liberals will kill you' message.  The paradox, of course, is that this will mean that an actual war veteran--who survived torture and still bears the scars of that experience on his body--will likely allow his manhood to be questioned by a drug addict who cross-dresses as a general and equates salivating on cigars with public service.

Rush Liimbaugh, the quintessential military-dodging conservative coward, in other words, will humiliate the war veteran in this election.

Man, oh man.

© 2008 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2008, Frameshop

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