The current war between the Republicans and the Democrats is just a natural extension of the culture war that may well be uniquely American: the jocks versus the nerds.
And no matter how far away from the ruthless hallways and lunch rooms of elementary, intermediate, and high school, we often revert to our school natures when put into the same, shameful, and humiliating situations from our youth.
To me, the first presidential debate of 2012 felt very much like an altercation between a jock and a nerd at the lockers between periods: Governor Romney dominated the debate with volume, aggression, and confidence while President Obama simmered with humiliation, tried to remain calm, not roll his eyes or show any contempt while waiting for it to be over. Why? Because no matter how quick-witted, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, sardonic, acerbic or demolishing the zingers in a nerd's head are, actually mouthing off to a jock really never ever ends very well and often ends very badly with a humiliation that goes from being mano-a-mano to becoming a public shaming.
It felt to me like the president maybe reverted to his days at Punahou, where there are plenty of jocks with plenty of money and generational family success. I grew up in Hawaii but went to an all-boys Catholic School, Saint Louis, which had an entirely different composition; however, I did do some exchanges with Punahou as student body president and it surely is one of the top day schools in the U.S., if not the world. And even in the rarefied air of elite prep school, there's not only the war between the jocks and the nerds -- though at Punahou, even the jocks are nerds if you ask anyone from Hawaii's public high schools -- there's also the tension between the haves and have-nots.
And I am not even going into what being a young African-American man in Hawaii in the '70s -- and at Punahou -- must have been like. I grew up haole in Hawaii in the '70s and '80s and there were very few black folks in Hawaii growing up who weren't military. It could have been very isolating.
In any case, the debate was textbook jock vs. nerd.
No matter how much the checkers of facts may scream that Romney lied and that Obama addressed all the questions calmly, completely, and with decorum and no matter how forcefully Ben Stein argues that neither candidate lost the debate: America won!
In boxing, you can't win on points if you're KO'd, Mr. President!
In order to win this election, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama must cowboy up as best they can, attempting to appeal to America's jocks -- and no matter how stiff, square, or aloof Romney may be, you can be emotionally distant and awkward and still be a cowboy, even if you're a cowboy in mom jeans.
The reason why these two supremely accomplished men are dumbing themselves down is primarily because nobody could possibly win an election based only on the passionate votes of the student counsel; the members of the marching band; the kids who went to summer camp; the cellists, pianists, and violinists; the Dungeon Masters; and the players of strategy board games. Impossible! Based on the 80/20 rule, those people are only (okay, let me do that math) 65 percent of the way to winning 51 percent of the popular vote -- to say nothing of winning the Electoral College (who even knows how that math works -- math's hard!)
Both Obama and Romney have advanced professional degrees from Harvard University; what's more, Romney may well be a bigger nerd than Obama since he won one of the rare joint JD/MBA degrees that Harvard confers upon only 12 students per year, according to The New York Times. Lucky for Mitt, family wealth and influence plus movie star looks do well to temper the effect of being an über-nerd par excellence and then going into finance and slaughtering Wall Street doesn't hurt either, even though bankers and financiers are, by their very nature, nerds in the bespoke finery of Savile Row.
No matter what, it's essential to get the stink of academia off you as soon as possible. Being Ivy League is even worse for your political career than being a carpetbagger. I have a friend who's in Virginia politics who has conveniently omitted his Princeton undergrad as well as his degree from Berkeley, only allowing his law degree from UVA to remain as bona fides. Such is life in the rarefied world of anti-intellectual America.
American politics is defined by the law of the jungle known as high school based on how you treated your fellow students and how they treated you; what table you sat at during lunch and who would and wouldn't date you -- to say nothing of, speak to you.
We're all loosely defined by whether we were the kids who threw the slushies or the kids who got slushies in their face; the kids who threw parties and the kids who weren't invited; kids who rounded home before 16 and the kids who didn't see their first homer until another decade passed.
And, despite the fact that just about every lawyer, doctor, entrepreneur, and politician I know of any acumen is a dyed-in-the-wool nerd deep down, we're still a country that is ripped right down the middle, right this very second, by the war between jocks and nerds.
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