July 11, 2003 | Broadcast

CNN Financial News

But an interesting thing happened. The European fashion scene seems to be embracing, in a new way, the new American macho. The virile American cowboy look all the rage these days. As one fashionista puts it, “in times of uncertainty, American symbol is still the greatest security blanket.”

But in our “Tough Call” today, we ask, has President Bush’s tough Texas talk made American politics too macho?

Joining us, Karen Durbin, film critic from “Elle” magazine and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Good to have you on the program, both of you.

Well, Karen, have we just gotten over the top macho these days?

KAREN DURBIN, FILM CRITIC, “ELLE”: Well, it’s interesting. The resurgence of machismo in this country was not set off by 9/11. It actually began, I think, around January, which was the beginning of the run-up to the Iraqi war.

And I think that’s because machismo always has an element of posturing in it. It’s not really a position of strength. It’s more of a chest-bumping, a kind of a psychological chest-bumping. It’s about domination.

SCHAFFLER: Cliff, your thoughts?

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FDN. FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I think that the age of Alan Alda and Phil Donahue kind of passed out a few years ago, and these things perhaps go in cycles.

But at a time, frankly, when the United States is at war around the world against terrorists who want to destroy it, a time when we really do have to screw our courage to the sticking place, it makes some sense that America would say, OK, we’re going to have to be a little bit tough. And we’re going to have to be a little bit macho, maybe, how it’s perceived. I’m not sure you can be too macho or too rich or too thin for that matter.

SCHAFFLER: Karen, let me pick up on that because — let’s play on that. If you want to see some strength, is that the way to see it, the macho American guy?

DURBIN: I don’t think so. I mean I don’t think that machismo is particularly American. Probably the biggest machistos (ph) in the world right now are the Taliban and the Islamist fundamentalists, who brook no opposition, who go immediately for the violent solution, and who are completely domineering and dominating of women. That’s a key part of machismo.

The definition of machismo, straight from the dictionary, “a strong, sometimes exaggerated sense of masculinity, stressing attributes such as”, as Cliff mentioned, “physical courage, virility, domination of women and aggressiveness.” This isn’t really about courage…

SCHAFFLER: Cliff wants to get in here. As the one man, we’re going to let him.

MAY: If I may.

SCHAFFLER: Yes, dominate, please.

MAY: Please, ladies, please. If that’s a definition, then we’re probably not being machismo. After all, the U.S. action in Afghanistan liberated the women in Afghanistan for the first time in decades.

Similarly, in Iraq right now, women have been liberated. And, for the first time, are going to have an opportunity to participate in that government. So from that point of view, what we’re talking about is not machismo.

I think — and maybe — and I’m interested in your view on it, that when you see American fashions, particularly cowboy fashions, being bought and sold in Europe, that suggests a grudging respect, even at a time when people are saying, oh, we’re so tired of those Americans. They’re much too much macho. They’re much too arrogant. Actually, it shows maybe they are looking towards us. Otherwise, why would they buy our cowboy boots?

SCHAFFLER: Yes, Karen, why is that? And let’s hope that passes quickly, by the way, some of the latest fashions.

DURBIN: Well, I actually think the American imagery is very appealing. And I think everybody is attracted to power. And we are the big guy on the block. We’ve been the big guy on the block for a long time now, which is one of the reasons that I’m unhappy with the macho posturing. I think it takes us to a dangerous place. And we already live in a dangerous place.

SCHAFFLER: Let me ask you about — actually, Cliff, I’ll throw it to you. Is it really that macho? Because there was a great article in “The New York Times” this week, in the sports section about all these sports stars crying. I mean the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner shedding some tears here. So that doesn’t really go with the macho guy image either.

MAY: That’s right. Pee Wee Reese, who was the captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, talked about how, after they lost the ’51 World Series, he didn’t cry in the locker room, but he did when he got back home.

Yes, I’m not sure that machismo is the right word to be using for the United States, for Americans right now. I think Americans — what we’re doing is we’re saying, look, we’re going to stand up and defend ourselves against people with whom we did not pick a fight, but who have come here to kill us, and who seek to kill us.

And I know there are different views on this politically. Obviously, I have mine. But I’m not sure what the view — look, I guess the two competing views are this: one is to say, if you’re going to come here and attack us, we’re going to go after you and stop you. Or to say, gee, I guess this is our fault. What did we do to offend you? How can we make it up to you? Oh, we’re so terrible.

And that is the view of some on the far Left, the Susan Sontag view, that we somehow deserved 9/11. I reject that view. I don’t think it’s machismo that makes me reject that view. I think it’s a realistic understanding of the enemy we face. And the courage we need at a time when, any day of the week, we may walk out in the street and find that there are germs that have been let loose, or that there is a dirty bomb, or that we’re being attacked by terrorists who plot against us every day.

SCHAFFLER: Cliff, hold your thoughts. I’ve got to let Karen get a couple of last words in the last couple seconds.

DURBIN: Well, let me stress, I think this is armchair machismo, what’s going on now. And it didn’t come out of the attack on us. That was not the response to 9/11. The response to 9/11 was grim and serious. There was no posturing at all. And I happen to believe that the invasion of Afghanistan was justified, although I’m unhappy with our careless aftermath. We haven’t freed the women of Afghanistan. Pache (ph), Cliff.

SCHAFFLER: We could talk forever on this topic. Karen Durbin and the very macho — if you’d like to be — Cliff May. A pleasure talking to both of you. Thanks so much as we make the “Tough Call” on whether America’s too macho.

MAY: Thank you.