Cory Booker’s Opponent Takes Republican Macho Too Far

In making a crack about Booker's comments on homosexuality, Steve Lonegan revealed a misunderstanding of the type of machismo that anchors his party

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Jason Reed / REUTERS

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker addresses delegates during the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 4, 2012.

As a rule, Republican men can’t go wrong with machismo. It’s coded into the whole party’s DNA, like elephants and straw polls. Ronald Reagan rode his horse, George W. Bush cleared brush, and over two elections, Mitt Romney, wrapped himself in tough-guy slogans like “strong.” In every presidential campaign since 2000, the Republican nominee has come out on stage to Van Halen licks. In 2008, Barack Obama came out to the Indigo Girls.

So Steve Lonegan, the Republican Senate candidate in New Jersey, probably felt he was on solid ground Tuesday when he basically called his Democratic opponent, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a sissy. At issue was Booker’s comment the day before that he didn’t mind rumors about his own possible homosexuality because there was nothing wrong with being gay. “It’s weird,” Lonegan said Tuesday, after accusing Booker of “acting ambiguous” and “weird.” “As a guy, I personally like being a guy.”

And he didn’t stop there. His campaign, Lonegan bragged, has been doing opposition research on Booker’s reported habit of polishing his nails. ”I don’t like going out in the middle of the night, or any time of the day, for a manicure and pedicure. It was described as his peculiar fetish, is how it was described,” Lonegan said. “I have a more peculiar fetish, I like a good Scotch and a cigar, that’s my fetish, but we’ll just compare the two.”

It’s been damage control ever since. Booker struck back decisively. “He’s challenging the masculinity of millions of Americans, and that is really unacceptable,” Booker said in an interview with the Huffington Post on Wednesday. “That kind of callous and bigoted disregard to gays and lesbians just shouldn’t be tolerated.”

Rick Shaften, a Lonegan adviser, told the Bergen Record that Lonegan never intended to make a reference to Booker’s sexual orientation, but only his nail care habits. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a reigning master of the Republican tough-guy shtick, distanced himself. “The fact of the matter is everybody in the world knows, because I’ve said it before, Steven Lonegan and I don’t agree on every issue, and I certainly won’t agree with every utterance that comes out of his mouth,” the governor said.

Lonegan’s crime, beyond insulting a large number of his would-be constituents, was in misunderstanding the type of machismo that anchors his party, and the complex ways that we experience gender, sex and sexuality in politics. To begin with, the three concepts are not inextricably linked to one another. There are plenty of macho gay men, and feminine straight men, just as there are plenty of women, straight or lesbian, who exhibit the gendered characteristics of masculinity. In most academic literature, the social construct of gender, in fact, is treated as distinct from sex and sexuality.

It is an unquestioned fact, however, that for much of the last forty years, the political parties in the United States have had gendered identities. As the linguist George Lakoff has argued, Republicans have taken on the archetypal role of the strict father, while the Democrats have become the party of the nurturing mother. In 2010, Nicholas Winter, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, went about trying to quantify the difference by analyzing the gendered words Americans used to describe the two parties over three decades in response to the American National Election Study, a massive recurring poll of political views.

As expected, Americans mentioned positive masculine traits about seven times more often when talking about the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, and positive feminine traits about six times more often when talking about the Democratic Party. The odds that an American would have a gendered view of the party increased with their level of political knowledge. “Americans have absorbed the gendered discourses surrounding the parties,” Winter concluded, in his article (pdf here) published in Political Behavior in 2010, “and associate stereotypically masculine and feminine traits with the Republicans and the Democrats, respectively.”

But as anyone who has followed presidential campaigns will tell you, there is a difference between the tough-talking, paternalistic, rock-solid masculinity of the modern Republican Party and the juvenile frat boy hazing that Lonegan embraced on Tuesday. Macho Republicans generally conceal their gendered insults towards Democrats in coded terms—like French, elite, weak—and successful ones avoid embracing stereotypes that surround sexual orientation. In short, the machismo of the Republican Party is the machismo of the wise father, not the cigar smoking, scotch drinking bro laughing with his buddies about the men in the nail-care salon down the street. It’s the machismo of Reagan, not Lonegan.

40 comments
SpikeLee
SpikeLee

"there is a difference between the tough-talking, paternalistic, rock-solid masculinity of the modern Republican Party and the juvenile frat boy hazing that Lonegan embraced on Tuesday."

No there isn't, as John McCain and Ted Cruz have consistently shown the nation.  By pretending otherwise, TIME magazine is writing it's own epitaph.  I guess Scherer is just doing what he is paid to do; deny the rampant bigotry that powers the modern Republican Party.

(Wait, does Michael Scherer think that mocking minorities and women is NOT juvenile?  Wow.)


bobdame83
bobdame83

The Dem symbol is not a Mommy, it is a Nanny:  she wants you to be totally helpless and reliant upon others efforts; stay home and live in the basement, and do nothing but collect checks from the Government. Your Nanny will only nag you about one thing:  vote Democratic to keep the checks coming. 

gysgt213
gysgt213

"As a rule, Republican men can’t go wrong with machismo."

Because media figures like Michael eat this crap up.

romano70
romano70

A few things: 1) Why are we persisting on idealizing a conservative clown (Reagan) as a succesful president and great American? His only achievement was to de-regularize the financial markets -with all the good and bad that came from that- and just be physically present when the Soviet empire collapsed under its own weight. 2) Drag queens from NJ eat straight Montana cowboys for breakfast 3) Corey is not gay. He actually did an interview in which he expressed regret at his homophobic past 4) So what if Corey is gay? If sexual preference were to disqualify one from being a politician, then the opposite must be true and all straight people are qualified to be politicians. How does that make SENSE????

cromsdisciple
cromsdisciple

@TIME Let your deeds count, not empty words? What a concept. Crom laughs.

benjaminaduncan
benjaminaduncan

@lindseymaggard those quotes are ridiculous. Sorry, I'll vote for an ambiguous, possibly gay man before I vote for a chauvinistic prick

eagle11772
eagle11772

So he's gay. So what ?  The fact that he's gay would have no bearing on me voting for him or not.  The fact that he's a DEMOCRAT is DEFINITELY a reason i wouldn't vote for him.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

So the advice is for the republicans to be more subtle when gay bashing, you know, like they do with the blahs.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Yes, yes the tough republicans. Who among us can forget W's brave leadership the day the towers went down?

He didn't go into hiding...oh wait. Never mind.

And that's about as seriously as the post should be taken. Tired, lame media narrative.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

The GOTP's standard derp of selling bootstraps to the poor, rape to women, hunger to families and ignorance to their followers doesn't strike me as the least bit macho.  In fact, it's decidedly wimpy.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Machismo can't cover up sh!tty governance anymore. Sure - it works when people don't expect you to be competent at what you do. It works when times are good. But it separates good governance from bad in times like these when we need good leadership making informed decisions about timely issues.

Then the grabbing of crotches seems more like a Micheal Jackson concert then an appropriate adult response. 

DavidStrayer
DavidStrayer

The Republican party is the party of the strict father?  More like the lunatic uncle who long ago stopped being relevant, can't figure out which way is up and keeps coming out with statements that are both offensive and senseless.  

The so-called machismo of the GOP is really not that at all.  It's not that real men don't eat quiche or that real men don't dance.

It's that real men don't need to prove that they're real men.  Real men don't need to put down others to be men.  

What defines so many Republican men and women is the ceaseless, nauseating demonstrations of their supposed high-minded, morally principled discipline.  In fact, they're no more disciplined than 2 year olds throwing tantrums and they wouldn't know a principle if it hit them over the head.  They've demonstrated that the only rules they know are the ones they want to impose -- on others.  And the only "morality" they seem to recognize is a medieval hypersensitivity to the issues of sexuality or women's bodies.  Morality as a guide for interpersonal interaction (like, don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself or love thy neighbor or ...) is as alien to them as the idea that there is anything to the Constitution besides the 2nd Amendment.

The GOP flunks the masculinity test.  They've proven themselves to be loudmouthed bullies and little more.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Does wearing frayed jeans, cowboy boots and a flannel shirt make up for singing show tunes?

grape_crush
grape_crush

> "Republicans have taken on the archetypal role of the strict father..."

Well, maybe they used to. Now it's more like the GOP is the father who emptied out the bank account before walking out on his family. Think absentee ashole father who's letting the wife andkids go hungry so he can buy his mistress another diamond bracelet.

notsacredh
notsacredh

I mow my lawn with a John Deere tractor. I wear a John Deere hat when I do it. My chest is hairy. I like Woody Allen movies too. I'm conflicted. I use a gruff voice when I beg my wife.

jmac
jmac

@SpikeLee   "Lonegan’s crime, beyond insulting a large number of his would-be constituents, was in misunderstanding the type of machismo that anchors his party . . . . "   writes Scherer.  

 I agree with you, SpikeLee.   Some reporters are loath to let go of the notion that the party of Reagan is dead.  It's six feet under.  Today's party is rotten to the core.   



barneydidit
barneydidit

@bobdame83 Don't forget Reagan's "welfare Queen" narrative bodame...Oh wait...that was proven to have been made up...just like the idea that trickle down economics works.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@bobdame83 It is? Guess where the biggest moocher states are? That would be the south that all votes Republican.

jmac
jmac

@gysgt213  Did he forget that there are almost no Republican women?    That the few who admit it and run are dingbats?  Republican men HAVE gone wrong with machismo.  W-a-y wrong holding that rifle in their cold dead hands.

anon76
anon76

@romano70 

What the hell do you have against Montana cowboys?  You probably just talk like that because you've never met one.

jmac
jmac

@romano70 He Tore Down That Wall as he tripled the National Debt.  Macho!   He was certainly macho when he came on camera and said that apparently we did exchange arms for hostages (why, how'd that get past him?) and no one was more macho than the man standing there having his wife whisper answers to him as reporters waited.  Very macho.  

romano70
romano70

@eagle11772 Suuuuuuuuuuuure...because you people are all for "freedom", right? the freedom to tell others how to live, who to marry, to control a woman's uterus, to legislate according to christian principles, to eliminate Medicare, etc, etc...you guys are what is destroying this country!

anon76
anon76

@grape_crush 

Ms. Corporation?  She's really more of a dominatrix than mistress.  And unfortunately she's been flicking her riding crop at the Democrats for some decades now as well.

anon76
anon76

@sacredh

Just as long as you don't weed whack in the nude!

jmac
jmac

@sacredh  That was too funny.   The secret to getting 'likes' - stay away from MMRs.  Nobody can scroll down through the garbage to get to the good stuff.  

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

@jmac@SpikeLeeMost days I assume that TIME favors pundits with "juvenile frat boy hazing" behavior.  Honestly, fraternity members should mock people as being like Swampland writers.

notsacredh
notsacredh

@anon76, I don't have to weed whack. I just stare at them and they die.