Tony Norman: Barack Obama's 'manhood problem' (and ours)

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Maybe it's the proximity of the Washington Monument that makes so many members of D.C.'s political elite and punditocracy so obsessed with the phallic nature of politics.

It is a solemn duty for even octogenarian politicians to virtually grab their crotches in public when it comes to projecting a credible military response to some provocation. The crushing lessons of two exceptionally stupid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade have already been forgotten on the Sunday television gab fests.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," New York Times columnist David Brooks recently dispensed what he assured moderator Chuck Todd was the absolute latest consensus thinking on President Barack Obama in light of stalled Middle East negotiations and Russian adventurism.

"Basically since Yalta we've had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders and once that comes into question, if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world all bets are off," Mr. Brooks said.

"And let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he's not tough enough," he said.

Ah, yes, the Middle East -- a region where blood has flowed continually since biblical times over such "manhood" issues as which of Abraham's descendents is entitled to the most Holy Land real estate. Somehow, people who have engaged in "manly" blood feuds since the Crusades are in a position to pass judgment on whether an American president is tough enough to wade into their millennium-spanning "Groundhog Day" of perpetual war and disenfranchisement.

I'm convinced that there's nothing the blockheads who inhabit the rarefied air of the Sunday talk shows would rather do than sit in a drum circle, sniff each others' armpits and send other peoples' kids into the charnel house of war.

With Afghanistan winding down, the punditocracy and the politicians they flatter are feeling itchy because there are no other obvious foreign adventures on the horizon, especially under a president with a penchant for drones over open-ended deployment.

In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has taken a lot of incoming fire from both the left and right over what appears to be indecisiveness in dealing with Russia's annexation of Crimea and the mounting fear in former Soviet republics that Vladimir Putin won't stop at Ukraine's eastern territories.

On the right, the criticism has metastasized into full-blown Putin-envy with folks as disparate as Pat Buchanan, Franklin Graham and Dick Cheney practically raving about the Russian leader's "strength" and willingness to do whatever he believes is in the best interests of his people.

Though Mr. Putin's actions are self-defeating in the long run, he inspires envy among Western politicians and pundits who really don't have a problem with authoritarian leaders per se, especially if they make Mr. Obama look bad in comparison. They are not willing to concede that token military action against even a fading nuclear power like Russia is craziness personified.

That's why Mr. Obama is routinely denounced as a weakling who suffers from the political equivalent of "low-T," the only unforgiveable sin in a high-testosterone environment like Washington, D.C. It's reminiscent of when the "missile gap," as a manufactured Cold War controversy, terrified a previous generation of phallocentric D.C. pols.

To be called out by the likes of David Brooks, prattling on about the president's alleged manhood problem, is par for the course for Mr. Obama, a relentless killer of suspected terrorists.

Still, the low-T comparison has an ironic value in this case. We've all seen the inadvertently hilarious commercials featuring middle-aged men with diminishing libidos complaining about not being 22 anymore and slathering so much testosterone cream under their arms that, if the long list of side effects is to be believed, they become toxic to every female in the vicinity. So, why would anyone risk it?

Of course, it would make more sense to build testosterone the old-fashioned way by lifting weights, eating healthfully and getting enough sleep, but that's not as much "fun" as the side effects of low-T treatments: headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and four-hour-long erections that are impractical both inside and outside the bedroom.

Mr. Obama's "manhood problem" would only get worse if he indulged in the moral idiocy that accompanies the conventional wisdom of his Putin-envying critics.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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