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Politics of Impotence


Innumerable pundits have prattled on about Pres. Obama’s apparent geo-political impotence in the face of the Syrian crisis.  Talking heads — mostly of the right but also some, like Leon Panetta, espousing a more liberal sentiment — have complained bitterly about his unwillingness to employ U.S. military might to help overthrow the Assad regime.
Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of Murdock’s The Australian, intoned, “Assad crossed the line and what Obama has provided subsequently is an elaborate ballet of impotence.”  Closer to home, Charlie Daniels, the Tea Party jester, lamented on Breitbart News, “I have to say with all sincerity that I have never seen a president as confused, befuddled, impotent, insincere and as out of his depth as Barack Obama has become in dealing with the Syrian issue.”
For these critics, Obama’s failure to assert executive, Commander-in-Chief military authority and strike Syria following its alleged use of chemical weapons in August is more then a mere foreign-policy failure.  It is a sign of the U.S.’s eclipse as a geo-political power.  At best, Obama’s refusal to militarily intervene in Syria’s bloody civil war is seen, begrudgingly, as cautious statesmanship, especially in light of his fig-leaf “red-line” warning.  The President appears too cautious, too deliberate, indecisive — impotent.
Critics point to still other signs of Obama’s apparent political emasculation.  They see his appeal to Congress for sign-off on a military strike as an abdication of authority; his current pad-de-duet with Russian’s political boss, Vladimir Putin, as a desperate gambit, a life saver; and his willingness to work through the United Nations as surrender of national power.  They long for the return of the imperial presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan; the fear perhaps the most imperial, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Machismo, symbolized by the hard, erect phallus, has defined the way those in political power have engaged with “enemies,” real or imagined, since the nation’s founding 4 centuries ago.  When cajoling and threats failed, military might could be called upon to settle any account.  From the earliest Indian wars to today’s misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the exercise of military might has all-too-often defined what was right.
But what if the president’s cautious foreign policy is more than tortoise-like, end-the-wars liberalism?  What if the real state of the nation cannot be acknowledged in a town – and a national politics – dominated by the self-serving military-industrial-Congressional complex?  What if his caution is a sign, an unspoken, unconscious acknowledgment – one shared by ordinary people and corporate leaders alike – that U.S. global hegemony is waning.  Sadly, those feeding at the “security” trough are the last to give up the ghost of an “American century” now being discarded in the dustbin of history.
Two recent Pew Research reports provide a dismal picture of the nation’s lived economy.  One found: “Five years after the U.S. economy faced its most serious crisis since the Great Depression, a majority of Americans (63%) say the nation’s economic system is no more secure today than it was before the 2008 market crash.”  The other found: “The net worth of the nation’s households increased from 2009 to 2011, but the increase in wealth was far from widely distributed among households. The vast majority of the nation’s households experienced a decline in net worth.”
Adult males, both white and black, have been the big losers in the Great Recession and its never-ending recovery.  According to MDRC’s Gordon Berlin, “Men’s employment and earnings have been hardest hit both by this recession and by long-run labor market trends.”  He argues that “the effects of the 1980/1981 recession and the 2007/2008 recession were devastating — male employment rates fell off a cliff.  In addition, men’s earnings have also been falling.”
Kristin Smith of the Casey Institute notes: ”One consequence of the recession for many families is a greater reliance on wives’ earnings. As husbands lose their jobs, family earnings plummet, and the role of wives’ earnings often becomes critical to keeping families afloat.”  In 1995, employed wives contributed 40 percent to family income; in 2009, this rose to 47 percent of total family earnings.
AARP, the senior-citizens advocacy organization, has conducted three studies — in 1999, 2004 and 2009 — on the sex life of “midlife and older adults.”  In a 2010 report, “Sex, Romance and Relations,” reported that incidents of sexual intercourse declined 10 percent between 2004 and ‘09.  In addition, respondents reported that kissing, hugging, sexual touching and caressing were also down.  Unique among large-scale surveys, AAPR asked respondents what would improve their level of sexual satisfaction.  It found that 26 percent of men and 14 percent of women say better finances would help—up from 17 percent of men and 9 percent of women in 2004.
These are worrisome symptoms of something deeply affecting the nation.  The old world order, the U.S.-imposed American century, is being contested and a new geo-political system is being established.  The gravest weak spots of this transition are at the system’s periphery, the Middle East and Central Africa.  As the global economic order is being reconstituted, the nation’s social order faces mounting instability.  And one, often unexamined, aspect of this restructuring is male impotence.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the modern name for a very, very old condition, male impotence.   It is a condition affecting more then half the men in the U.S.  It is estimated that at 40-year of age, approximately 40 percent of men are affected with some form of ED; by age 70 years those affected increases to nearly 70 percent.  However, the prevalence of complete ED increases from 5 to 15 percent as men age from 40 to 70 years.
In 1998, big-pharma’s Pfizer introduced Viagra and, during its first decade on the market, 35 million men worldwide used it and approximately 1 billion little blue pills were sold.
Like the military-industrial complex, the pharma-doctor-insurer complex periodically requires a new enemy to ensure its continued growth.  Today’s new enemy is premature ejaculation (PE).  Historically, men take an average of 5-7 minutes to reach orgasm, while women take 15-20 minutes.  The International Society of Sexual Medicine defined PE as: “Ejaculation which always or nearly always occurs prior to or within about one minute.”
PE is a problem that, according to some medical professionals, affects between 25 and 30 percent of men.  This proportion seems to be increasing among men in general and among the growing cohort of men 60-plus.  This growth is facilitating a booming little industry that will only get bigger – sexually and financially — over time.  Johnson and Johnson projected its 2011 sales of their anti-depressant for PE, Priligy, at $575 million; it’s now developing a next-generation drug, a selective serotonin uptake inhibitor (SSRI), to push the market forward.
There a fundamental relation between what some call Pres. Obama’s “impotence” with regard to foreign policy, the decline in male economic and social power, and the increase in American men’s use of sexual performance aids.  Geo-politics, domestic life and personal existence are intimately linked.  The great insight of radical theorists over the last century-and-a-half — of Marx and Freud, of the Frankfurt School, Reich and Mumford, Jacobs, Bookchin and the Situationists – is that the world is whole.  The fragments that each individual lives out are part of this whole.  Sexual life, like foreign policy and economic wellbeing, is political.

David Rosen writes the “Media Current” column for Filmmaker and regularly contributes to AlterNet, Huffington Post and the Brooklyn Rail. Check out; he can be reached at

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out

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