Vote for Don Draper
Don Draper, the anti-hero of Mad Men, is the real candidate on Tuesday’s ballot. He is, in every sense of the word, a self-made man. Abandoning his painful and unseemly life as the son of a prostitute and an abusive father, Dick Whitman switches dog tags with dead Lieutenant Don Draper in the midst of the Korean War. As always, Don Draper is ahead of time, committing identity theft before it was even “a thing.” He goes on to build a stellar advertising career as a premier purveyor of consumer desire. He markets cigarettes beautifully, until his client turns his back on the firm. Then Draper pens a righteous screed against tobacco, an act of vengeance masked as an act of conscience. He builds his own advertising firm after stealing his former employer’s client list and files. He has a wife and two kids in the suburbs, an endless supply of mistresses, a divorce, a marriage to his much-younger secretary, and a gifted female protégé whose talents he can exploit while paying her less than her male co-workers. Don Draper is more than just a pencil-pusher, however. When necessary, he can strip down to his ribbed-cotton undershirt and fix a car or a sink. He is fueled by a combination of Old-Fashioneds, cigarettes, and red meat. Don Draper is a man’s man.
If you examine your ballot carefully, you’ll see that it’s really a series of referenda on our nostalgia for the kind of American masculinity that Don Draper embodies. The deep-seated belief that Barack Obama must be a secret Kenyan, a secret Muslim, a secret homosexual and/or a secret Socialist, are based on the anxieties that have always haunted white, straight masculinity. The “self-made man” is built on a scaffolding of fabrication, exploitation, and square-jawed aesthetics. President Obama’s very existence threatens each one of these things: he is open about his own complicated history (a child of a bi-racial marriage, growing up with a single mother, raised in multiple cultural contexts); he dares to call out social inequalities like poverty and homophobia; and he possesses a kind of Al-Green-crooning cool that Don Draper couldn’t pull off. Don Draper does not croon.
The “war on women” has always been waged by likes of Don Draper. He holds the door open for ladies, but slams it in the face of female professionals. He keeps his wife and children beautifully while keeping them at arms-length emotionally. Sexual harassment is part of his benefit package. Contraception? Abortion? He’ll keep his daughter from having legal access to them (she’s a good girl, so why would she ever even need to know about these things?); he’ll make sure he can buy them “off-the-books” for his mistresses.
Homophobia makes the man. Don Draper knows that penetration turns you into a woman, which means you were born to be dominated. It means other men get to do to you what you do to women (see above). In Don Draper’s world, marriage exists to provide him with the kind of emotional and domestic caretaking he needs to go out into the world and manipulate people into buying things they don’t need. Marriage equality is a contradiction in terms.
Don Draper has earned his place at the table and the ballot box through a combination of deceptive know-how and dishonest industry. He’s worked smarter, not harder. Those who don’t know how to fake their identities convincingly don’t deserve to vote. Like the boardrooms and country clubs he frequents, the polling booth is a place where only the “right kind” of people should be allowed.
At the end of the day, does Don Draper look better off than he was five seasons ago? He is alienated from his family, always at risk of being exposed, and never truly at peace with himself. His commitment to his masculine identity is killing him by inches. So vote for Don Draper, a fading ideal of American masculinity that never worked very well.
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