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Seth Greenland Headshot

Scamps vs. Dorks: Why Do We Want to Have a Beer with the President?

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I'll start by saying I hope I'm wrong.

In modern American presidential politics, a dork can never beat a scamp. To clarify, let me first define the terms. A scamp is a person with a devil may care quality, a charming rogue who exudes positive, charged energy. Bugs Bunny is a scamp. A dork is someone uncomfortable, awkward, and doomed to defeat. Elmer Fudd is the obvious example. While a true scamp, say, Billy Carter, could never get near the White House as anything other than a presidential sibling/embarrassment, once a legitimate candidate clears the vetting threshold, an absence of scampishness will doom his or her chances for victory.

A quick survey of modern national elections proves this theory. The vaguely sinister, graceless Nixon was easy pickings for the insouciant Kennedy. When Nixon won eight years later, he exhibited a sense of humor (readers of a certain age will remember his "Sock it to me?" moment on Laugh-In) and he was blessed with the extremely earnest Hubert Humphrey as an opponent. Reagan vs. Carter was a rematch of the Kennedy/Nixon dynamic. Whatever you thought of Reagan's politics, his ease and joie de vivre set him apart from Carter, the parson-like Annapolis technocrat. Reagan vs. the sober and dull Mondale was more of the same. Flyboy war hero Bush I against the little guy with his head sticking out of the tank? Once again, scamp annihilates dork. Moving on to Bush I vs. Clinton, the flyboy loses to the playboy. Both have scamp qualities, but while Bush's have a slightly amateur, country club quality to them, Clinton is a stone cold pro. In that context, Clinton vs. Dole isn't even worth talking about. What about Gore vs. Bush II? Al 2.0 (before his sense of humor was allowed out of the basement) may have won the popular vote, but what kept it close enough for Bush II to steal were the Texan's scamp bona fides. This fake airman, failed oilman, party animal was the first man elected/appointed president because America wanted to have a beer with him. And once he was ensconced in the White House who do you bet on next time? The French-speaking, Chardonnay sipping, windsailing patrician, or the guy who was looking for WMDs under his desk in his very own comedy video?

So who is the scamp now among Democrats? Obama? Yes, he went to Harvard Law where he was the editor of the Law Review (dork-like in the eyes of Joe Voter), and he speaks like Cicero (ditto). But he plays basketball religiously (semi-scampy), and I saw him bust a move on Ellen that showed a degree of mischievousness which went a long way toward erasing his more Adlai Stevenson-like qualities. As for Hillary, after her campaign had been pronounced dead, she has allowed her inner (faux, in her case) scamp to show and was rewarded with a healthy victory in Pennsylvania. The gun talk worked, and throwing back the shots of whiskey helped, but what really seems to be fuelling her new image today is the way her whole campaign has taken on the quality of a drunken bar fight. While Obama is hooping like it's the NCAA, Hillary is playing ball like she's in a prison league. The ability to wield a shiv with aplomb may not exactly be scampy in the pure sense, but compared to the slightly NPR quality Obama is projecting Hillary is a veritable Tracey Ullman.

The result: she has temporarily neutralized his scamp advantage.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, right now McCain outscamps the both of them. He finished near the bottom of his class at Annapolis, fought, caroused, and philandered. Then, in a paroxysm of obviousness, he married a brewery heiress. It's the classic charming rogue profile. So which Democrat has a better chance against him? If the nominee is Hillary, she can go duck hunting drunk and won't beat McCain. Her transparent lack of authenticity will ultimately work to her disadvantage against him. Picture their debates: a split screen between C-Span and an NFL halftime show.

But if it's McCain vs. Obama, there is some hope for the Democrats. Why should this be the case? Seeing McCain on the trail one is reminded of Lucille Ball in her last sitcom. The prospect of slapstick was upsetting because no one wants to see an old scamp break a hip. So, while McCain remains full of piss and vinegar, in the mind of the energized younger voters his advanced age edges the scamp-quotient down thereby providing an opportunity for Obama, straining to stay amiable and waggish in an increasingly Darwinian crucible, to gain traction.

Unfortunately for Obama, Reverend Wright, a veritable Jack in the box, is currently making him look like Elmer Fudd. This does not bode well. A true scamp rolls with the punches and comes up dancing. That would be the old Bill Clinton. Too bad he's not on the ballot.

McCain in November?

Like I said, I hope I'm wrong.

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