Today at Slate, John Dickerson has a piece on "How Edwards tries to emasculate Obama". The article is a perfect example of one of my hobbyhorses: the role that discourses of gender and authenticity play in contemporary U.S. political campaigns and media coverage of the candidates. There will undoubtedly be many similarly themed articles in the coming year, and I'll try to post them whenever I come across one. In this instance, Dickerson relates the Edwards campaign's use of the word "nice" in describing Obama, arguing that it is an attempt to emasculate the candidate.
Edwards has been pitching himself as a fighter for quite some time ... but in the final week, he and his campaign are increasingly highlighting a secondary argument: that Obama is too nice to be one, too. Nice is an emasculating epithet that gains additional potency because the heart of Obama's message is about conciliation and bringing people together. "Senator Obama talks a nice talk," said Elizabeth Edwards on the Today Show, "but John is the real warrior in this race." LinkThe subtext at play is that attacking a candidate's masculinity is in fact akin to attacking his authenticity. The connection of the feminine, or at least the non-masculine, with notions of artifice is as old as western civilization, as is the equation of masculine traits with the traits desirable in a political leader. Thus, in characterizing Obama as "nice", Edwards is calling his masculinity and authenticity both into question. Of course, Edwards hasn't always been made out to be the manliest candidate, either: