Jonathan Chait on Chris Matthews’ “nerd theory of history”:
Also working through his emotions toward the Middle East right now is Chris Matthews. In a recent broadcast, Matthews declared, “[President Bush] didn’t have any philosophy when he went in, and they handed it to him–these guys with … you know, the guys you used to make fun of at school, the pencilnecks, the intellectuals, the guys you never trusted.” So now we know the true sinister influence behind the Iraq war: nerds. Nerds have always been, of course, the favorite target of demagogues, and this latest attempt to scapegoat them is steeped in the usual illogic. Far from being nerds, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are gruff former jocks, and distinctly thick of neck. And the more we learn about the bungling of the war, the more we discover that it was precisely Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld’s propensity to ignore the geeks in the bureaucracy that has made it such a fiasco [note: here Chait seems a bit unhinged himself — I don’t know which bureaucrats Chaitt is referring to or what advice they say they gave that Chaitt thinks should have been followed, but I see no reason to question the neck size of any such individuals]. Yet Matthews appears ever more deeply wedded to his blame-the-nerds theory. In another recent broadcast, he asked Pat Buchanan:
When are we going to notice that the neocons don’t know what they’re talking about? They’re not looking at this country’s long-term interests. They’re bound up in regional and global ideology, and they have had no experience–I’ll say it again–in even a schoolyard fight. They don’t know what physical fighting is all about. They went to school and were intellectuals, but they want our government to be their big brother. I don’t get it. I don’t know why we keep falling for it–and the president, you say is he free of these guys yet or not?
Buchanan replied, “I certainly hope the president is not listening to them, because I really question whether they’ve got America’s national interest at heart.”
A more suspicious mind might detect in this some ugly insinuations, but I prefer to take Matthews’s theory at face value. Maybe he truly believes that participating in schoolyard brawls is necessary training for the successful conduct of foreign policy. (Perhaps the young George F. Kennan formed the nascent outlines of his worldview in the elementary school latrine, while administering swirlies to the pencilnecks.) There is, of course, a long-standing belief that only veterans have the moral standing to support wars. Matthews, who never joined the military himself, is simply defining the relevant combat experience more broadly than has been traditionally done.
UPDATE: “Pencil-neck” was the favorite term of Freddie Blassie, the late, great wrestling villain. Blassie even wrote a song called “Pencil Neck Geek.” Come to think of it, when he gets angry Chris Matthews bears a facial resemblance to Blassie.
JOHN adds: To paraphrase Chris Mathews, when are we going to notice that growing numbers of liberals are stark raving mad? It would be equally idiotic to assert a) that foreign policy should be made by men who were NOT involved in lots of schoolyard fights as boys, or b) as Mathews apparently does, that foreign policy should be made by men who WERE involved in lots of schoolyard fights as boys. To advance either of those propositions is simply bizarre, not to mention sexist, and illustrates once more that a great many liberals have taken leave of their senses.
“Pencil neck geek,” by the way, is a familiar term of abuse in bodybuilding circles, and will be familiar to all readers of Joe Weider publications.