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The Era When Tough Guys Won Elections

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Follow Me on Twitter     Message Dean Powers
Last June, Stephen Colbert interviewed Hardball host Chris Matthews. At one point Matthews bragged that he was winning the argument. "I think I'm beating Steve Colbert." The audience began laughing, but as Colbert played upset, they "Oooh"-ed.

Matthews continued, "I think if we were to take a poll right now you would be loosing in points." Colbert stacked his cards and then eyeballed Matthews. "Do you want to arm wrestle?" he asked.

This got an appreciative laugh from the audience, but Matthews who had maintained a serious if not aggressive demeanor throughout the interview invited Colbert to stand up. "Let me show you something." He spun Colbert around and reached under his arms, bringing his hands behind Colbert's head and locking his fingers together. "Break it! Break it! Break it!" he barked as he bounced Colbert around, the victim's arms flapping wildly.

At this point the spectacle began to give me a bizarre feeling. I felt like I was seeing the "message" behind the rhetoric of talk show hosts like Matthews, Bill O'Reiley, Sean Hannity and others: I can kick your ass. This sentiment fumes out the posturing and language of republican congresspersons and senators like Adam Putnam, Tom DeLay, and Trent Lott whose pugilistic quips to the media run along the lines of "bring it on."

An awkward silence passed as Matthews let go of Colbert and abruptly sat down. Colbert smoothed his tie and sat down across from him. Suddenly Matthews ejaculated, "I can tell you how to break it. You want to do that to me?" Colbert obliged, stood up, and put Matthews in the hold his attacker had just had him in.

"Okay how are you doing?" he asked Matthews, who was hefting his shoulders skyward. With one grunt Matthews brought down his arms, nearly breaking those of the unsuspecting Colbert's. Point made: Matthews is bigger, tougher and more don't mess with him.

Of all the conservative pundits besides Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity uses the most incendiary "tough guy" language. Last winter Hannity, who is a former construction worker, called into a radio interview between Alec Baldwin and Brian Whitman on WABC. Less than a minute into the unpleasant exchange, Hannity asked Baldwin, "Are you the reckless, third-rate Hollywood actor who said that Dick Cheney is a terrorist? ...I wanted you to come on the program and defend that, you gutless coward."

Two hundred years ago his slander would have provoked a duel under the rules of the Southern Code. As Doris Kearns Goodwin noted in "A Team of Rivals," some people have lamented the duel's abolition, for it kept political discourse in the realm of ideas rather than personal attacks. For those of us in the Northeast and on the West Coast, Hannity has made his career slandering our families and our friends. He's tossed out enough careless remarks to be challenged by millions of people sick of his attacks on them and their way of life. And somebody ought to start pointing that out.

Show me a democrat trying to beat an incumbent who will stand up for his constituents when the right libels and slanders us; who will suggest that if red-staters are as ungrateful as Hannity tells us they are that they take their state and bow out of the union instead of trash-mouthing their fellow Americans; who will call the right wing's bluff when they talk tough. We never attacked red state people; the same big mouths who now defend Mark Foley incited them against us, their allies in this epic conflict in which corporate lusts seek to undo the perseverance of the people.

Like my dad once told me, tough guys will keep acting tough until somebody challenges them. "Tough guys" like Putnam will blink if congresspersons like Rahm Emanuel, who debated him on ABC's This Week recently, come prepared for a brawl and act like it. Democrats can win Rush Limbaugh's 20 million followers. Their needs are simple: they are looking for the alpha- male or female politician. They're looking for a good guy and a bad guy. Dems just need to learn the art of high-school-parking-lot-politics and trust that their intellectual constituency will understand the posturing.
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Dean Powers lives in Castleton, VT. He has apprenticed at several newspapers including The Nation. He currently writes for OpEdNews. He can be found at

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