It Always Comes Down to Jocks vs. Nerds

I’ve been griping about Jon Stewart’s McCain-love for some time now, and Thursday night he finally came out and said that if McCain had won the GOP’s nomination in 2000, he would have voted for him, instead of Gore. (The video‘s here, but be warned: you have to watch several minutes of Bill Kristol, love-child of Goebbels and The Joker, to hear the quote.)

I know the campaign McCain has run in 2008 has shocked and surprised a lot of people who admired him in 2000. I’ll admit that even I had some respect for him back then. But I wouldn’t have voted for him. And I certainly wouldn’t have voted for him over Al Gore, a candidate I supported wholeheartedly.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding what people had against Gore in 2000. And by “people,” I guess I mean Democrats. At my caucus in Iowa City (a college town in what Iowans call “The People’s Republic of Johnson County”), the “cool kids” all supported Bill Bradley. Bradley was supposed, by these folks, to be the “liberal alternative” to Gore, but I never understood the basis of this judgment. The graduate students’ union, COGS, had sent out a mass e-mailing showing that every labor, environmental, and civil rights outfit that compiled “ratings” on legislators’ voting records, and by every measure, Gore was more liberal than Bradley. Didn’t matter. (COGS itself, thanks to the presence of a plurality of trust-fund socialist idiots, endorsed Ralph F-ing Nader. I would like to retroactively resign, based on that alone. Idiots.)

Once Gore got the nomination, his support remained soft. I’ll admit he was in many ways a lousy candidate, but a lot of people who should have been able to see past that and admit he would have been a good president were still unwilling to do so. There was just something about the guy they didn’t like.

I think I know what it was. It’s the same thing that let George W. Bush, until quite recently (and how quickly we’ve forgotten this) coast along, despite numerous blunders and obvious stupidity, as a fairly popular president. It’s the same thing that has kept John McCain looking like an Ideal Leader until, you know, he actually had to run (whereupon we — or at least more of us — finally saw him for the ill-informed, erratic egoist he’s always been). It’s the same thing that beat Mondale in ’84, Carter in ’80, and Stevenson in ’52 and ’56. For that matter, it’s the same thing that helped JFK edge out Nixon in 1960.

It’s one of the governing principles, not only of American government, but American life. And though we associate it with High School, it starts in the sandbox and ends in the graveyard.

It’s Jocks vs. Nerds.

Two recent articles brought this into focus for me. One is a  Joel Stein piece in Time, titled “The Urkel Effect,” in which Stein predicts trouble down the road for our presumptive Nerd-in-Chief. Obama may not strike most people as particularly nerdy, but Stein makes a good case — and there’s no question former high-school bully and bad student John “Nasty” McCain is the “jock” in 2008’s comparison.

The other piece is John Hodgman‘s Onion AV Club interview (Hodgman is also quoted in Stein’s piece — he’s the Nerd of the Moment, I guess). Hodgman talked a little about the eternal battle between Jocks and Nerds, but also had a lot to say about politics, including this intriguing bit of behind-the-scenes insight:

I have misgivings now about McCain that I never had before. I was never going to support him for President, because even though in 2000 he was the kind of Republican that Democrats liked and he can be real nice when he wants to be and, certainly, he has been a great friend to The Daily Show. People there love him and they are people that I love so I trust there’s something lovable there. But would I pal around with him? I bet he’s probably a great guy to have a round of beer with or whatever the latest folksy kind of way of putting is. I would like to IM with him, you know, but I was never going to vote for him. [Emphasis added.]

Hodgman, who sees himself as a Nerd, is immune to McCain’s charms. Would that this were true of Tom Brokaw, Chris Matthews, Charlie Gibson, David Broder, David Gregory, most of the national press corps, both broadcast and print, “Reagan Democrats,” non-millionaires who for some reason vote Republican, etc., etc., etc.

If only it were true for Jon Stewart. But Stewart, despite his Nerd-cred, is a Jock-lover at heart.

It may sound like I’m taking this personally — and I am (why write a blog if you can’t take things personally?) — but I truly think there’s something deeper here. Our culture worships strength. We glorify confidence. We vote — over, and over, and over again — for Men of Action, who seem Bold and Decisive.

Look where it’s gotten us.

I think eight years of Gore’s nerd-leadership would have been a great thing for this country. I hope an Obama presidency will leave the legacy of bully-boys like Bush and McCain in the dust, but Big Strong Men and the littler, weaker men who look up to them still loom large in our national psyche.

I’ll end this rant with Hodgman, who, in the course of answering a question about expertise, brings it all back home:

There is a need for expertise, for real expertise. I’m not doing much to help that cause, but I think we can find the healthy balance between intellectualism and anti-intellectualism. Jocks and nerds may come together, I believe it. I believe it is so. But only the nerds will save the earth.


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4 Responses to “It Always Comes Down to Jocks vs. Nerds”

  1. Daisy Lu Says:

    As a consummate nerd, I grew up being tutored that Adlai Sevenson lost to Eisenhower solely because of this partisan nerd-jock division. As a historian, I also think it can be traced back even further. So, it is not anything new at all.

    Stewart may self-proclaim his nerdness and have the credentials (after all, he was born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz and was in his high school band), but he’s the wannabe who would have made sure his best friend was a jock so he could bask in the afterglow of the cheerleaders and football players. Not only did he openly tell Kristol that he would have voted for McCain in 2000, but the night before he inexplicably told the audience after his interview with Obama that both Obama an McCain were highly qualified. Huhhh….Why the sudden, and it seemed unscripted, impulse for empty balance?

    To pile more fodder on here: Schwarzenegger (no comment) intuitively spoke for the nerd-jock divide in a truly idiotic sound byte while he was stumping for McCain. He complained about Obama’s skinny legs and that Obama needed to do some squats. OK: now he’s parodying the decade old SNL parodies of him. Someone in the Obama campaign responded that Obama would take Arnold on the basketball court anytime. So Arnold brings it down to the literal assertion that his muscles are bigger than Obama’s as if jocks vs. nerds is underlying it all and as if weightlifters are the only jocks. By the way, the same Obama staffer said that Obama’s POLICIES are more popular in California than Arnold’s. So there. A good nerd response.

    But I’m still LMAO over Kristol as the lovechild of Goebbels and The Joker — so true!

  2. Urk Says:

    so, I suppose you caught Lorne Michaels’ McCain panderfest last night? It was …weird. Parts of it (“the reverse maverick,” “the double maverick”) were, honestly, pretty funny. But then I’d get this queasy feeling thinking about the slime emanating concurrently from the other side of McCain’s mouth, and that made the funny stop.

    On the one hand, after Tuesday when he and Palin are (hopefully, fingers crossed, salt over the shoulder, etc.) mostly harmless, I suppose it’ll be healthy to not hate the old bastard so much, and that episode seemed to speak towards that possibility. But i bet it’ll still make me queasy in reruns.

  3. An Early Thanksgiving, and Some Leftovers « Satired Says:

    […] yes, I thought he acquitted himself pretty well on Saturday. Per Urk’s comment, I do think this was a first step toward rehabilitating his image, and I’ll […]

  4. mr jockstrap Says:

    The intriguing history of the jockstrap… We have to visit all the way back to the 1870s, and a Mr. Bennett of Chicago, who has been clearly *very* concerned about the injury that cobbled roads did to bicycle courier’s balls. All that unchecked moving about kept him up through the night. Poor Mr. Bennett. Yet luckily for the bike messengers (or ‘jockeys’), Mr. Bennett had a thought, and that he named it after them. The ‘jock strap’ was developed. Fast-forward fifty years to the 1920s, and a young Canadian named Jack Cartlege. Jack adored his hockey *almost* as much as he liked slipping on his much-loved jock strap, but it wasn’t until one fateful day in 1927 that Jack realized (the hard way!) that his jock strap was no competition for any hockey puck in the crotch. Jack wasn’t enormously enthusiastic on reproducing the experience, and who places blame him, so he arrived up with the ingenious idea of slipping a hard goblet down the top of his jock strap. The style was promptly copyrighted and development started. Adult men will no longer had to live in concern with a stray puck, ball or studded shoe. Jack’s combination of jock strap and shielding cup has become the principal of boys’ secondary school sports kit around the world through out the 20th century, until underclothing brand names like Andrew Christian, C-in2 and Addicted started out reinventing the timeless design and style. Out gone the unattractive shade of off-white and the unattractive waistbands, and in came a completely new collection of ground breaking cuts and forms, and fun colours. These modern-day jock straps are the best balance between design and performance – as great around the track or in a gym because they are under a set of jeans, or suit trousers if you’re game for it. Business in the front, party in the back!

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