Say, have you heard about Mitt Romney’s penis?
No, really. Mitt’s Member is all the rage this week. It’s been prodigiously productive. The Republican candidate for president has fathered five sons, and it is Romney’s virility—not his tax plans, not his offshore accounts, not his hopes for war with Iran—that leading Republicans are now advancing as the single best argument for his White House bid. If they do their job right, voters will be awash in a musky haze of conservative testosterone when they go to the (ahem) polls in November.
The GOP? That stands for the Grand Old Phallus.
Or, at least, that’s the sense that one gets from reading Kevin Williamson’s new cover story for National Review, that august conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr. Williamson’s advice to Romney is to play up both his riches and his fecundity in an effort to attract voters who love a winner. The piece has generated a fair amount of anger on the left, largely for passages like this:
From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote. You can insert your own Mormon polygamy joke here, but the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs. Saleh al-Rajhi, billionaire banker, left behind 61 children when he cashed out last year. We don’t do harems here, of course, but Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one. He’s a boss.
High-status men tend to produce more sons than the average father, Williamson wrote. Mitt has five boys. “Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.”
Which, as I said, produced an angry reaction from liberals. But not from me. I giggled. Why? Because it’s nothing more than a dick joke—a three-page dick joke that Williamson somehow managed to get published as a political magazine’s cover story, sure, but a dick joke nonetheless, deserving all the anger and angst one usually reserves for a lesser Will Ferrell movie.
And to be honest, I thought the joke was on Republicans. Because what Williamson did here was, essentially, make the traditional Republican subtext into text. “Vote for our guy,” Republicans tell Americans every four years. “He’s got the bigger penis.”
Often, this takes the form of attacks on (male) Democratic candidates as emasculated, effete un-men. (Liberal female candidates, like Hillary Clinton, tend to be portrayed as emasculating bitches, but that’s another story.) Remember the sneering at Al Gore and his failure to achieve alpha male status? Remember the glee with which your Republican friends passed around the video of John Edwards fixing his hair? Remember John Kerry and wind-surfing?
Republicans, meanwhile, make a great show of playing macho. Ronald Reagan loved to pose for pictures of himself “clearing brush” at his ranch. George H.W. Bush overcame the “wimp factor” via a public confrontation with Dan Rather. And his son George W. Bush, never one for subtlety, gave us this enduring photo to make the point all too vivid. (Dick Cheney, of course, had all of them beat.)
Cocks of the walk, all of them.
Which means that, for Republican campaigners at least, elections often aren’t about who can solve our problems, but who can swing the biggest pipe. And Williamson, in one of the more sober, less fratty moments of his essay, concedes this: “Elections are not about public policy. They aren’t even about the economy. Elections are tribal, and tribes are — Occupy types, cover your delicate ears — ruthlessly hierarchical. Somebody has to be the top dog.”
That should be an insult to your intelligence. It should probably offend you too, if you’re tired of casual-but-pervasive sexism, or would simply like to see our political debates exist on a higher plane than Tom Cruise in Magnolia. Because as long as Republicans keep winning elections this way, Kevin Williamson’s three-page dick joke is a joke on all of us.