Sunday, July 13, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds

Last month the world got a glimpse into Karl Rove’s mind when he said this about Obama:

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."

Put aside that most Americans have never been inside a country club, or the fact that a black man could easily face discrimination at such an institution. If we substitute “school dance” for “country club,” and picture a 17-year-old Karl Rove as one of the passersby, it’s not hard to imagine this scene playing out: Rove is the nerdy loser who never gets the girl, who has to bear the taunts of better looking and more popular students, and he’s emotionally scarred by the experience. Viewed through this lens, we can better understand his lifelong quest to get back at all those who made him feel so low as a teenager.

The same goes for one of America’s most annoying pseudo-intellectuals, Jonah Goldberg, whose book “Liberal Fascism” reads like a 500-page poke in the eye at all the people who at some point or another threw the word “fascist” in his direction. Again, it is easy to imagine a young Goldberg sitting in his room alone at night, incensed, plotting how he was going to have the last laugh, no matter how ridiculous, inflammatory, or intellectually dishonest he needed to be.

So what’s the point of all this?

There are a few. First, as much as the readers of this site would like more reason and rationality in politics, the people who practice it are often motivated by just about everything other than the public good—a quest for power and attention, perhaps a profound sense of victimization and alienation (Tom DeLay, for instance, was a bug exterminator who became incensed at the environmental regulations he was forced to follow). And in politics, as in so much else, it is often the loudest voices which most influence policy, those who feel aggrieved, rightly or wrongly, who fight the hardest.

Finally, insecurity may be the strongest of all human emotions: a potent combination of fear, uncertainty, estrangement, and desperation. We all experience insecurity at some point in our life, sometimes throughout. Politicians and pundits who become adept at playing on our feelings of insecurity are often the most successful. Why? Because those who are insecure are often seeking explanations for their plight, consciously or not. They are quick to accept scapegoats and rationalizations (which is why minorities like gays, blacks, immigrants, atheists and today’s favorite, “intellectual elites,” are typically in the cross-hairs).

I am not sure how to combat the bad feelings that insecurity brings to the surface. The best antidote I know is a consistent and unyielding campaign to eschew excessive emotional appeals, to stick to facts and reasoned arguments.

But still I wonder: if Karl Rove had had a few more friends back in high school, maybe the world could have been spared the last eight years of the Bush Administration.

Jason Scorse

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