Bush's testosterone problem

Posted: Apr 20, 2004 12:00 AM
Testosterone, Steven Rhoads points out in his forthcoming book, "Taking Sex Differences Seriously," (Encounter Books) creates a "loner profile."

Animal studies find the "tremendous increase in oxytocin at puberty drives both sexual behavior and attachment in females, (but) it increases sexual drive without increasing the drive for pair bonding in males." Differences in men and women in aggression and in response to threat of violence are ubiquitous. "(M)en see aggression as functional, while women see it as problematic. For women, the relationship costs seem too high, and they are more likely to fear retaliation." Moreover, "sex differences in fear of physical danger are pervasive."

All of which may go far to explain some of the latest poll results cited by political analyst (and columnist) Dick Morris. By a huge margin (51 percent to 36 percent), men say the United States is safer than it was before Sept. 11. Women are split (41 percent safer, 42 percent less safe). Forced to choose between "letting terrorists know we will fight back aggressively" or "working with other nations," men opt for aggression 53 percent to 41 percent, while women opt for diplomacy by the reverse margin (54 percent to 36 percent).

Morris sees President Bush's recent, tough-talking press conference "entirely male-oriented." He may not have noticed the sudden female interjection, but I did: Bush suddenly paused to talk about how meeting with the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and "weeping" with them was one of the toughest parts of his job. Strong men weep over fallen comrades, too.

The ongoing need to appeal to women as well as men may help explain the Bush administration's weird insistence that we are part of a multinational coalition fighting in Iraq -- technically true, but militarily and morally completely irrelevant. Politicians, at least, take sex differences very seriously indeed.

But human beings -- male and female -- are more than our hormones. Rational judgments have their place, however diminishingly small, in how we respond to political policies. Women might prefer a diplomatic solution, but that doesn't mean we necessarily believe that one is possible.

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll released April 20 shows America is still a country that believes in winning. "Was it a mistake to send troops to Iraq?" In January, 56 percent said no. Today 57 percent say "no." "If President Bush sends more troops to Iraq, would you be upset?" No, I wouldn't be upset, say 57 percent of Americans (38 percent say "Yes, that would upset me"). "What do recent attacks against U.S. troops and civilians in Iraq show?" Fifty-eight percent of Americans say it shows the U.S. must intensify military efforts; just 35 percent say it shows U.S. policy is not working. "Should the U.S. pull its troops out after June 30 turnover of political power to Iraqis?" Sixty-one percent of Americans say no (just 35 percent say yes).

When it comes to doing a good job on terrorism, Bush leads Kerry 41 percent to 20 percent (23 percent say both would do a good job, 11 percent say neither). When it comes to the situation in Iraq, likely voters favor Bush over Kerry 40 percent to 26 percent. No wonder after two weeks of Iraq- and terrorist-dominated news, the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows Bush widening his lead slightly: 50 percent for Bush vs. 44 percent for Kerry.

Iraq is a big gamble. Americans are skeptical about our ability to create a stable democracy there. But we've already seen where doing nothing about aggression will lead us: to exploding skyscrapers.

For better or for worse, most Americans continue to agree with the president: When it comes to fighting terrorism, the best defense is a good offense.