The Deleuze-Marvin Spectrum; or, hail President McCain!

Light posting this weekend, so here’s a big post to tide you over.  As promised, it features some thoughts about the presidential candidates.  Or really one thought, in particular.  The thought that is causing quiet unease and gnashing of teeth in Democratic circles since Republican candidate John McCain’s decisive victory in the Florida primary.  That thought is "Oh shit." 

If the Republicans nominate John McCain, he will be the next president of the U.S.  If I’m right about this (more on that later), it makes the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama kind of secondary.  Now, of course I’m going to vote in the Democrats Abroad primary and I’m going to pick Obama.  Not because I dislike Hillary, but because lots of other people do.  Whether this is fair or not is beside the point — it’s true, and it will be a drag on her prospects for reasons Hilzoy explains here.

Why do I think John McCain will win?  The conventional reasons are that he’s not insane, not incompetent, has huge name recognition (a key fact) because of his decades-long presence on the American political scene.  He’s also intelligent, loved by the press, and viewed favorably by a majority of American voters. McCain is viewed as a moderate, which makes him a tempting choice for self-described "independents."  Sure, the most conservative wing of the Republican party doesn’t like him, but once he’s the nominee, they’ll shut up and support him.  They always have, and they will this time, too.  That’s life in a winner-take-all two-party system.

Now on to the deeper reasons.  During the general election this fall, ignorant people will be heard for the first time.  Voters in presidential primaries are political junkies, but they make up only 3-4% of the population.  During a general election, though, millions of people will vote who are almost completely ignorant of the political system and the details of both parties’ policy positions.

The personalities of the presidential candidates — and most definitely not the issues — will be a decisive factor for these voters.  Northern Europeans often misunderstand American elections.  Voters in places like Germany or Sweden are content to elect dull but competent technocrats, since governing, to them, is less taking the reins of destiny than competently managing a complex organization — the modern European welfare state.  Large numbers of American voters, though, want to be entertained and inspired even, perhaps especially, by their politicians.  So the questions become: Is the candidate likable? Does he seem trustworthy? Sincere? Inspiring? Decisive? Is there an exciting or unusual arc to his his life that would make me feel part of a wonderful story if I voted for him?

So now many of you are saying: yeah, but how about Obama and Hillary Clinton?  First black or female president?  What’s not exciting about that?

Nothing!  But keep in mind the Lee Marvin effect.  Imagine a spectrum.  On the left end, you have effete, chain-smoking French intellectuals.  Just to pick a name out of the blue, we’ll populate this end of the spectrum with Gilles "Plane of Immanence" Deleuze:


Not that I have anything against Deleuze, mind you — he just represents a certain approach to life that mainstream American voters have decided opinions about.

On the right hand of the spectrum, you have tough, decisive, virile, taciturn men of action.  A man who doesn’t waste words or mince them, who doesn’t swan about, and who gets the damn job done.  My pick would be Lee Marvin.  I guess what I really mean is the kind of characters Lee Marvin played, but even in his private life, Lee Marvin’s seed was so desired by the womenfolk of his land that judges often had to sort things out:


Take all recent presidential elections, and locate the candidates on the Deleuze-Marvin spectrum.  John Kerry failed to conceal the fact that he spoke French, so his placement is clear:

Deleuze <————Kerry—————–Bush——————>Marvin

Now to Al Gore.  Sure, his family came from Tennessee, but the man wrote books.  About the environment.  And sometimes even discussed foreign philosophers:


Clinton and Dole is pretty much a toss-up, I’d say.  But Clinton-Bush I, no question.  George H.W. Bush was tall, elegant, patrician, lived in a giant house in Maine, and liked the word "prudent."  Bill Clinton grew up in a two-bit chicken shack in Arkansas (well, sort of), and spoke with an audible Southern accent.  And, of course, his seed was also in high demand, at least in his eyes [revise!! — ed.]:


I hardly need to do the Reagan/Mondale and Bush I/Dukakis comparisons, do I? 

A caveat or two.  First, it’s not how close the candidate is to the Marvin end of the spectrum that’s particularly important, but where he is relative to the other candidate.  This is why George Bush I, while clearly less Lee-Marvinesque than Bill Clinton nevertheless creamed the diminutive, squeaky-voiced technocrat Michael Dukakis, who might as well have campaigned while wearing a chamois beret and chain-smoking Gauloises from an onyx holder. The larger the distance between the candidates on the Deleuze/Marvin Spectrum the greater the advantage for the Marvinesque candidate.  Other factors come into play only when the candidates are close.

Now, some of you are protesting: this is all so damned superficial!  What about the economy?  Iraq?  The mortgage crisis?  They will be important, but not decisive.  People like me, who sit around and read books all day, we care about policy issues.  But we’re freaks.  The considerations that sway great masses of voters are superficial.  They will pick the candidate they like and admire — someone who makes them feel part of a grand, inspiring narrative.  They will pick John McCain.

That’s why I will hereby confidently predict that John McCain, if nominated, will beat either Clinton or Obama. I’m so confident I’ve put this prediction in bold type, and will leave it up until this November, come what may.

Why am I so confident?  Because of the gigantic distance between John McCain and either Clinton or Obama on the Deleuze/Marvin spectrum.  John McCain, you see, actually is Lee Marvin.  No, wait, it’s even better than that — he’s the kind of man Lee Marvin only pretended to be.  A patriotic Navy fighter pilot who spent five years being tortured by Communists!  An ornery, confident maverick who says what he thinks and defies party orthodoxy to take independent stands when conscience compels him!  A friendly, relaxed truth-teller who can tell a joke and honestly admits to (some of) his failings!

Are all these narratives 100% accurate?  Of course not, but that’s beside the point.  They are deeply-established, and will color every voter’s perception of McCain.  Just as you do with anyone you like, voters who like him — and there are many of those — will fit any political missteps or blunders into an overarching narrative of likability.  Occasional fits of rage?  What do you expect from a decisive man of action?  Doesn’t understand the economy?  Sure, but neither do I.  It reassures me to know the candidate’s a regular guy like me in some respects, and I’m sure he’ll pick good aides.  Besides, he came right out and admitted it!  When’s the last time a politician did that?  Etc., etc., etc.

Barring some drastic turn in events, neither Hillary nor Obama will be able to hold a candle to McCain’s charisma.  Hillary will seem too evasive and too studied, and besides, large numbers of Americans already think they know her, do not like her, and will not change their minds.  Obama will seem embarrassingly fresh-faced and inexperienced next to McCain, and his "uniter, not a divider" message will be neutralized by McCain’s actual history of reaching across party lines on occasion.

The upside is that John McCain, whatever you think of his political views, is not a blundering amateur.  Therefore, his presidency cannot but be a improvement over the status quo.

19 thoughts on “The Deleuze-Marvin Spectrum; or, hail President McCain!

  1. Im just hoping here, but is there a chance the Christian Right is so disgusted that a pro-abortion Man like Giuliani endorse Mc Caine (btw: what exactly does “endorse” mean. Is Giuliani going to be McCains Vicepresident or is he just supporting him?) that they stay away from voting or choose a independent?


  2. This is a fascinating analysis and it deserves lots of play.

    Do you really think Obama falls so far away from the Lee Marvin side of the equation though? My thought is that the majority of the “young black men” that are prominent in US culture tend to be pretty masculine action-oriented people. If you asked the average American about prominent black men generally, they’d go through a few Michael Jordans, Will Smiths, Colin Powells and Mike Tysons before they ended up at Al Sharpton or Clarence Thomas or Terence Trent D’Arby… If race counts for much in this election, it has to have a rub-off effect. Look at the women that came out for Hillary when she misted up on camera.

    Everything I’ve seen of him shows a young, energetic, mobile and charismatic person. And the man admits to doing coke, for goodness sake. In keeping with your post, I suppose most Americans won’t read his books and discover his more sensitive questioning side.


  3. The ornery, war hero maverick who’s been tabbed as the next leader of the free world was trounced by Bush II; humiliated, in fact, by a disserter calling himself “W” who questioned his war record. McCain took it like Lee Remick, not Lee Marvin. That’s enough to jettison the model.

    What went wrong? It’s this: Pro-ignorance, which is a driving force in American culture, gets erroneously equated with muscular machismo. Republican’s admire the fellow who bests the intellectual using “native intelligence,” “wits”, “resourcefulness” and other values (e.g., brutality) that can’t be taught from such loathsome contrivances as books. That is they actually admire the sneaky, vicious bastard who comes out ahead; the salesman, “the entrepreneur,” whether in business or in the pulpit, no matter what they push, so long as they succeed. Elmer Gantry, in other words, was badly maligned in these people’s eyes. That is one reason why Richard Nixon trounced a war hero with a history PhD named George McGovern during the peak of late 20th century radicalism.

    Nonetheless, the economy will be decisive, and if O’Bama’s handlers have the sense to let him link the impending recession to the disaster in Iraq, he will beat Hillary and paste McCain. Clinton, too, will trounce McCain.

    As for not disliking Clinton…. She promoted war for self-serving, political reasons. That is unforgiveable. What could be worse?


  4. James: You defend your case well, and the Lee Remick line was nice. So, I’d say, let’s make it interesting. I will stake a nice bottle of wine on my prediction.

    Sure, W. outmanuevered McCain in 2000, and McCain got riled when W.’s surrogates hit far below the belt. That won’t happen this time, first because Obama and his team don’t have that in them. The average Democrat just doesn’t go in for that sort of thing, and Obama can’t without sullying his high-minded image. Further, in 2000, the Republican establishment had every motive to nail McCain in the primaries, so W. could get away with a lot without making powerful enemies. However, this establishment is far too smart to undercut McCain when the alternative is a Democrat. Now if there’s a nasty recession, McCain may well get caught up short. But I still think it’s a mistake to underestimate charisma and narratives and frames. Even right now, when Americans have been drenched with bad economic news and many are feeling it in their own lives, a candidate who admits his ignorance of “the economy” (McCain, that is) and has no serious proposals for any of these things has a substantial lead over both Democratic candidates in head-to-head matchups. Why? Because McCain is doing well among that gigantic pool of voters who will make their decision in blissful ignorance of policy.

    Koch: Whisky moves you to the Marvin side of the equation; cocained to the Deleuze. I agree that Obama has lots of delightful qualities, but they’re not Lee Marvinesque qualities. Remember, this is America we’re talking about, not Canada or Europe. Too much intelligence is a terrible handicap, and so is too much charm and probably too much ambition. These qualities make the voters we’re talking about here feel insecure and envious. What makes a candidate Lee Marvinesque is displaying characteristics that ordinary people can imagine themselves possessing. Not everyone can be intelligent or charming or can write good books. But any man can look destiny in the eye without flinching, shrug off agonizing pain, prove he won’t take shit from anyone, and bluntly speak his mind without worrying who he pisses off. Or at least, any man can fantasize that he possesses these qualities, even if he works in a box company in Tustin, California.

    Frederik: The religious right is making a lot of noise about McCain. However, Republicans, historically, have been very good at lining up behind their candidate after he’s nominated. Something simimlar to parliamentary coalition-building happens, but it happens behind the scenes: McCain will meet with religious right leaders and promise to appoint right-wing judges or try to ban the abortion pill, and they will then just accept it, because the alternative is (to them) so nightmarish.


  5. “Remember, this is America we’re talking about, not Canada or Europe. Too much intelligence is a terrible handicap, and so is too much charm and probably too much ambition.”

    Sorry, Andrew, this is just too much. As if Americans had a national monopoly as far as populist stupidity is concerned.

    The Deleuze-Marvin spectrum will resonate with the clichès embedded in your German friends’ and employers’ minds, but it is a shoddy, crude, overly simplified representation of American values.


  6. Hm, interesting post. It somehow contradicts a observation of mine and confirms it at the same time. For there are other perspectives on the obvious liking of charismatic leadership figures in the American public: Instead of being down to earth, this can be interpreted as a hidden aristocratic trait in the political system of the USA. I think this is less absurd as it might sound: Apart from the apparent aristocratic characteristics of the political class, and apart of the downright dynasties that exist (Kennedys, Bushs, Clintons, etc.) there was always a preference for strong, charismatic, self-relying politicans in America. This is something not so much democratic – or discoursive, if you will – than elitist or, right, aristocratic. Not only is there a need for people who alone have the power and steer the ship (or at least look like doing so) but who also are able to pass on their power to their biological heirs – not directly, of course, but as the Bush familiy (George I, Jeb, George II) or the Kennedys show it is not completely impractical to stay in the business. I wouldn’t know of any European family of politicians (I am speaking of the traditional democratic Europe, the Kaczinskis do not count).
    So instead of using Lee Marvin on the right extreme on your scale, one should rather use someone like Roosevelt, who led America into war against the will of 80% of his population – not that something like this would make him super popular but it is these kind of actions that signify a strong-willed american politician: That he doesn’t compromise oneself but follows his conscience even if he makes himself unpopular with it. — I know that this is not what you meant. But consider it.


  7. You say you’ll go for Obama, because he’ll have the better chance than Hillary to beat the republican candidate (and than you elaborated explained that both of them will anyway have no chances)… but in the light of the Marvin-Factor (which is actually a pretty good analyzing tool) I recommend to overthink your position:


    Deleuze Marvin

    Obama “more manly” than Hillary? Come on, everyone knows that Hillary eats little children for breakfast and, together with her hubby, killed at least 47 persons without hesitation. Obama on the other said is a very well mannered war-opposer, nice family man and everybodies darling… not really Marvineske.


    When it comes to the presidential campaign, as you (and Hilozy) point out, Hillary will draw a lot of fire… and as we know she knows to shoot back… excatly a Marvin-role! McCain on the other side will play the old guy, sitting in its chair and commenting how brute and sleezy the Clintons are… and that only well mannered family guys should come in the white house…

    give it a thought (and excuse my underdeveloped english)

    Greetings from Switzerland



  8. Nonsense, Andrew. The idea of such a spectrum is not totally invalid and I would not even quibble at defining Deleuze at one end of the spectrum. Though surely one could find an American example when defining an American spectrum?

    But defining Marvin as the other end of the spectrum (an actor who often played stupid drunks in bar scenes) is an insult to anyone’s intelligence.

    The archetype of what you’re writing about was none other than Andrew Jackson, Hero of the Democratic party. You have heard of Jefferson-Jackson Day I’m certain.

    If you wish to stay with the actor schtick I suggest you use an entertainer at both ends of the spectrum, but make a better choice for the Jacksonian end. What about John Wayne?

    I propose you use Barbra Streisand at the other end. Or if you want a deceased entertainer, how about Marlon Brando?

    Using Lee Marvin is not only an insult, it’s a stupid insult unworthy of you.


  9. Nonsense, Andrew. The idea of such a spectrum is not totally invalid and I would not even quibble at defining Deleuze at one end of the spectrum. Though surely one could find an American example when defining an American spectrum?

    But defining Marvin as the other end of the spectrum (an actor who often played stupid drunks in bar scenes) is an insult to anyone’s intelligence.

    The archetype of what you’re writing about was none other than Andrew Jackson, Hero of the Democratic party. You have heard of Jefferson-Jackson Day I’m certain.

    If you wish to stay with the actor schtick I suggest you use an entertainer at both ends of the spectrum, but make a better choice for the Jacksonian end. What about John Wayne?

    I propose you use Barbra Streisand at the other end. Or if you want a deceased entertainer, how about Marlon Brando?

    Using Lee Marvin is not only an insult, it’s a stupid insult unworthy of you.


  10. Don:
    Being just halfway through the last book of McCollough’s “Masters of Rome” series (a recommendiation of yours for which I’m most grateful), I would maybe propose Cicero and Mark Anthony ;-).


  11. I work in a box company in Tustin, California, and I take objection to your comparison.

    Other than that I cannot but agree both with your spectrum and with your prediction of the election results. I made a similar prediction for the 2005 election (although I didn’t name that spectrum but my reasoning was basically the same) and people in Europe could not really believe me: they said things such as “Kerry is so much smarter and more charming and more honest”. All irrelevant. I am 100 % in agreement with your prediction.


  12. “Cicero and Mark Anthony”

    🙂 Interesting choices there. Cicero was a great orator of relatively low birth who was overly fond of self-praise, while Mark Antony was a born aristocrat, a fall down drunk at times, but possessed a great deal of native intelligence, charm, and talent. Rather unscrupulous. Cicero hated Antony like poison and reserved his most poisonous penmanship against him. In turn Antony had him judicially murdered by adding him to the proscription list compiled by the Second triumvirate.

    I could accuse you of avoiding the issue as much as Andrew has, however. Where are Julius Caesar and Augustus on your spectrum? Or Gnaeus Pompey for that matter? These were the towering figures of that era, not Cicero or Mark Antony, although Antony came close.

    As for Andrew’s spectrum, I think I’d advise discarding the Deleuze end of the spectrum, and just ask which candidate is most Jacksonian. Asking who is Marvinesque is just BS, John McCain is not very Marvinesque, and neither are any of the other politician Andrew cites.

    McCain IS quite Jacksonian, however! McCain was a serious soldier and even a hero – as was Jackson. McCain presents himself as a man of principal but has had some slightly dubious financial dealings – as did Jackson. And McCain seeks to do what is best for the country (as he sees) it without being the captive of one faction of men – again like Jackson.

    That doesn’t mean Jackson would have liked McCain – Jackson had heated feuds with contempories whom one might have described as Jacksonian – men like Thomas Hart Benton, for example.


  13. Pretty persuasive post, despite all the juicy controversy you’ve generated with it! But it can’t all come down to the Deleuze-Marvin spectrum, can it?? After all, Al Gore won more votes than Dubya, no??

    Just trying to find a thin shred of hope to hang onto here…


  14. Absurd to comment at this late date. We all know what happened. McCain blew it. Regardless of how many people liked (and continue to like) Palin, she is one of the biggest flakes to hit the American political scene in decades. Choosing her might have looked good on paper, in concept, but her gross incompetence for anything but impressing crowds of her followers was fatal. McCain may have been somewhat “Marvinesque,” to use your term, years ago, but these days he’s a compromised, befuddled, aging politician. Politics is NOT a job for a real man and so you will find none there. When you do, they’re always fake – it’s 100% marketing. I do somewhat take offense at what this “Don” person said. Why would a comparison to Lee Marvin be an insult? Lee Marvin was a Marine and fought in WWII, receiving the Purple Heart at Saipan. He’s buried at Arlington. In fact, Marvin is also (literally, no joke) a distant relative of George Washington. The drunks he played were characters, FICTIONAL characters. Sure, Marvin was a drinker in real life, but W was a coke-fiend and his daddy was on anti-psychotics and who knows what the rest of them are on. Besides, isn’t it fairly common to ask “What Joe Six-pack would think?” at election time. Even the candidates do it! Palin did it several times. This basically equates the average American with a beer-swilling yokel. If that’s our standard of the common man, then maybe the people would rather their President be a “stupid drunk.” And didn’t you ever see The Dirty Dozen or The Big Red One, or any number of other films Marvin made where he was NOT a “stupid drunk” but instead a competent heroic figure? Why do you judge a man and condemn him simply because he played a few drunks? It’s called acting. You do realize that real life and the movies are two different things, don’t you, Don? Anyway, Andrew, I just wanted to comment because I’m a big Lee Marvin fan and I liked your explanation of “The Lee Marvin Effect,” though at this stage I’d be interested in knowing if you plan to revise your theory or, if you still uphold it, how you account for the outcome of the election in light of it.


  15. Success does not mean anything! But if you are successful you can always maintained a positive mind! But failure does not mean anything! As long as you keep on trying you still the other side to success


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