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.