Tuesday, February 12, 2013


In the past, Joe Scarborough has fought with such evidence-based nerds as Paul Krugman and Nate Silver. Now he's fighting with those who dare to argue that Washington spending is not, in fact out of control, and attempting to use his MSNBC perch to marginalize anyone who disagrees with him -- and if you're, say, Jonathan Chait and you dare to challenge Scarborough's thinking with actual statistics (citing the Congressional Budget Office, for instance, to note that federal spending is actually dropping as a percentage of GDP), he'll accuse you of "mak[ing] up" "skewed graphs" on "mom's PowerPoint."

Paul Krugman correctly describes how Scarborough arrives at conclusions:
... I've gradually come to the realization that most of the commentariat doesn't do what, say Martin Wolf or I do -- grub around in published data, read reports, and all that. Instead, they rely on what they heard somebody say the facts are; hearsay economics. Of course, they don't listen to any old bum on the street; they listen to people of repute, people in their circle. But the repute in question has nothing to do with technical expertise; hey, Admiral Mullen is a serious person, so if he says something on any subject, such as economics, it must be solid.
It's interest that Krugman talks about "grub[bing] around in published data," because the minute you hear that phrase you think: a person who does that is not cool. A person who does that is a nerd, a geek, a tool, a total loser. Joe Scarborough, by contrast, is cool. Within the not-cool world of D.C. politics, he's a veritable jock, a football hero, a BMOC.

America's last two Democratic presidents have managed to combine coolness with a wonk's command of facts -- but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are rare birds (and neither one is all that far left). Apart from O and Bubba, most Democrats, and virtually all true liberals, are deemed pathetically geeky, because we noodgily question conventional wisdom, and, on economics, because we reject the manly virtue of imposing austerity on the have-nots. At the jocks' table, they love austerity.

They also love manly men who smell of sweat and cordite -- which is why a racist, woman-hating sociopath named Ted Nugent is going to the State of the Union address as the guest of a sitting congressman and the Beltway isn't scandalized. Nugent is seen not as a head case, but rather as James Dean -- he may be a rock C-lister and a has-been by now, but to the Beltway he's still a pop-culture god.

This division of D.C. into cool and tool began at the time of McGovern and passed through the Dukakis-in-the-tank and Kerry-windsurfing moments. And if Marco the Bro is the GOP nominee in 2016, it may seem as if nothing changed, except temporarily, in the Obama years.


UPDATE: Headline typo fixed. No, Scott Brown isn't ghost-writing here.


Lex Alexander said...

On the bright side, if, as is not entirely implausible, instead of covering the official response to the State of the Union, the media just stick their cameras and mikes in Ted Nugent's face, the Republicans might not get the White House back until it's under 6 feet of salt water.

BH said...

If "the Beltway" actually thinks Nugent is of any interest (musical or otherwise) to anyone besides the NRA & Rick Perry's entourage, it has thereby defined itself as among the tools.

JoyousMN said...

Call me a dreamer, but I refuse to believe that anything good for Republicans can come from the GOP inviting Ted Nugent to the SOTU.

Phil Freeman said...

"This division of D.C. into cool and tool began at the time of McGovern"

I think it goes back at least as far as Adlai Stevenson, and probably earlier.

ChiJDDoug said...

Sorry, John Hodgman's Sppecdh to NerdProm2 a few years back beat you to it, with his definitive treatment of Obama as the bridge over the jock-nerd divide.

Ten Bears said...

And "noodgily" is... the fool on the hill?

With the (numerous) texts I have at hand my best guess is a collocialism of Scots origin, relating to a lack of intellect or cognitive reasoning skills, an emptyheadedness perhaps: a simpleton, a fool. We "'foolisly' question conventional wisdom."

Very nice turn of a phrase, Steve, that's one I've encountered not.

No fear...

Steve M. said...

From "noodge." Yiddish. I'm Italian, but everybody's English in New York has at least a few Yiddish words.

Glennis said...

Did anyone pay attention to the Nuge?

Ten Bears said...

The Fool on the Hill:-\?

Steve M. said...

Did anyone pay attention to the Nuge?

He looked pretty grumpy in the photo The New York Times ran.

Dave Weigel has a pretty good piece about Nugent'slack of impact (and other SotU issues).

Batocchio said...

Yes, that is definitely part of it. It ain't cool to know data on the Sunday shows; that ups the expectations and makes all the BS-ers look bad.

Also, while Hodgeman's bit was indeed great, Bruce Reed wrote about this dynamic as wonks versus hacks back in 2004. I've riffed on it (and tried to expand on it) many times since. (And others have explored this earlier – it's in European fables, and hell, there's some of it in Odysseus and Ajax making competing speeches about which one deserves Achilles' armor.)

I've long felt that certain aspects of the Beltway can be better understood through anthropology and the arts than through traditional journalism. The Emperor's New Clothes isn't just a parable; it's the eternal ethos of the ruling class.