As one looks toward the next Presidential election, assuming that our democracy can survive this presidency, the question we often hear is "Can a woman become President?" This reflects upon the interest in Hillary Clinton and her ability to be elected in a Presidential race. A more pertinent question may be "Can a man become President?" In asking this, one is obliged to define what one means by a man, something far different from the male who currently occupies our White House.
Let's consider the last election. The perception was the George Bush was the more manly candidate. He spoke with a western twang, walked with a swagger, appeared to be decisive, and clearly had no use for the effete Eastern liberals, intellectuals, and the sissy boys who waffled about at the UN. Despite the fact that the twang and the swagger were cultivated by this Eastern prep school boy with Yale and Harvard degrees, Bush was considered the more "authentic" candidate by a great many voters and pundits who found John Kerry "inauthentic" with his educated Bostonian ways, actual war heroism, and his inability to take a stand and stick with it right or wrong for life. As one who would not want to sit down and share a beer with George Bush, or go windsailing with John Kerry, I have my own definition of "man" and I would like to apply it to the qualifications for our next President.
A real man should be capable of flip flopping on any issue at any time. It is an essential element in thinking and living. There is no way to grow as a man without changing one's mind from time to time. The inability to change an opinion when life and events prove your original opinion or decision wrong, is not a manly quality. It is the quality of those who prefer to be deluded by life, rather than taught by it. The best thing that could be said of Kerry, who ran an overly cautious, defensive campaign that lacked the courage he showed in life, was that Kerry flip flopped on the issues. It meant that he was a man capable of growth. Thank God for flip floppers. History shows that Lincoln was a champion flip flopper, changing his views on slavery as he developed in his life, Teddy Roosevelt was a flip flopper, a hunter who protected the environment, an American aristocrat who sought to protect the worker from the very ruling class he was born into, and protect industry from the trusts. FDR's elitist views were tempered by the times he lived in. Harry S. Truman, a small town man with a limited background was capable of making great decisions, based upon his ability to learn on the job, starting the movement towards Civil Rights in the military. George Bush can never flip flop. He cannot change his mind, because it is a lazy mind, incapable of the activity required for flip flopping which can be a wrenching experience. Between the flip and the flop is a lot of mental and moral activity. He is far from stupid, but lacks that curiosity which allows for growth and change. By "sticking to his guns" he thinks he is acting as a man should act, standing by his principles, while in fact all he demonstrates is his inability to tolerate change and the weakness of those principles.
A real man does not always have to "feel your pain" but he must be capable of alleviating it. Real men are healers. They are not towel snapping bullies like our President whose target is the poor, those least able to defend themselves. For all his failing, Jimmy Carter was a real man. His was an unlucky Presidency, but it was one in which the poor and the envivornment were given a chance to survive. His actions for peace and for building decent lives for the poor, following his Presidency, reveal a man who is driven by true religious feelings, not one who uses his religion to beat down the poor because "the poor will always be with us."
A real man values human life so highly that he cannot help but oppose those who make war, destroy gun control laws, and cheapen life by allowing fellow Americans to suffer in life destroying poverty. A real man is not threatened by the way other people live, be they gay, straight, atheist, zen Buddhist - he is content to live and let live - and support laws that broaden human freedom, not limit it.
A real man does not claim to reform Social Security by destroying it. He does not claim to advance our freedoms by limiting them. A real man knows he does not hold a patent on the truth but works towards finding the truth by examining the world, not feeding on his own beliefs. That takes courage, the quality that a real man must have.
Most of all a real man can say "I was wrong" and mean it. He can take responsibility for his actions and know that responsibility isn't just admitting to error, but seeking ways to remedy that error. In this way George W. Bush is not a real man and never will be. He can drink his beer, talk his baseball stats, walk the walk on aircraft carriers, and nothing that he can do will make him a real man unless he can now become a born again humanist, not a very likely prospect.
The question I raise can only be answered by the American people when they reexamine the notion of what real man is in the next election. Perhaps a real woman can be a better real man than those who now swagger across the national stage, actors playing leaders, or perhaps she will assume the posture of the fake men who preceded her, and she too will be compromised by the need to appear tough and never flip flop and call intellectual weakness moral strength. Can a woman become President? Maybe, if she is a real woman.