Who is tough?

Hillarys back; shes walking the fine line between seeming too tough, not tough enough - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline on Ellen Goodman column, Jan. 11, 2008.Obama's toughness could be a question mark for voters - Associated Press headline, Feb. 4, 2008.''I have to explain to people, I'm skinny but I'm tough.'' Barack Obama, quoted in The New York Times, February 12, 2008.For much of this year, the Clintons concentrated on arguing that Mrs. Clinton was tougher and better prepared than Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards " - The New York Times, December 19, 2007.Senator Hillary Clinton, theres been lots discussed, written about toughness versus warmth. When it was suggested a woman run for president of the United States, the threshold question would be, is she tough enough to be commander in chief? No one raises that about Hillary Clinton. Its interesting in the analysis of Barack Obama, his ability to inspire, to offer hope. And now the question is, is he tough enough? - Tim Russert, March 15, 2008.On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq and in the midst of Holy Week - its a good time to consider what it means to be tough. The word has emerged as a theme in the presidential campaign, the subject of political polls. But, in a sign that weve not learned the lessons of the Iraq war, the toughness needed to be president is supposedly demonstrated by being belligerent or militaristic.The word "tough" has quite a few meanings, not all complimentary. The most relevant definition I found comes from the Oxford English Dictionary: Having great intellectual or moral endurance; difficult to influence, affect, or impress; steadfast, firm. It's a quality few of us can maintain consistently - especially politicians, it seems.Who is tough? Jesus, for one. He was tough when he told Peter to put down his sword. Pilate was weak when he told the Roman soldiers to pick up their whips. Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Martin of Tours: They were tough.Those who oppose the start of a popular war are demonstrating toughness, not weakness. Those who go along with a popular war to appear tough are definitely not tough.The flip side of tough in this political season is nave. The architects of the Iraq war may be considered tough, but they were merely belligerent. They were at best nave idealists, poorly prepared for the reality awaiting the inadequate number of under-equipped troops they dispatched. They naively thought they could bring a hasty democracy to Iraq. The elected officials who voted to give President Bush authority to start the war in the belief that he would act responsibly they were at best nave, too.Toughness is a matter of moral courage, not negative campaigning or enlarging the army or having a wiry, athletic build. Let's hope for a president who is tough - but first, let's understand what it means to be tough. The model will be found in the reading of the Passion this week.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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