Clarification of the Deleuze/Marvin Spectrum

I already made this point in comments to a previous last post, but I wanted to expand on it.  This may strike you as pompous, but hey, I’m king of this blog, and it’s good to be the king!

One aspect of American culture that many foreign observers rarely understand is the appeal of "regular guy" candidates for high political office.  They listen to commentators praise a U.S. political candidate for being the "kind of guy you could drink a beer with" and scratch their heads.  Europeans tend to concentrate more on the candidate’s qualifications, and will give credit to a candidate who has achieved various status distinctions in their societies.  Job titles, educational titles, honorary degrees, and official prizes  are important in Europe.  Europeans who have them make no secret of them, and expect them to be recognized and respected by people who have lower status.  This explains why, for instance, why a doctoral title in Germany becomes part of your official name, and why you can be sued for not using the proper form of respectful address towards others.

Lower-status people, in turn, are usually willing to convey this respect and recognition for higher status.  To Americans, this respect for external accoutrements of status often seems exaggerated.  They will mock it as "groveling" or "bowing and scraping."  (One of the things that irritated English visitors to the U.S. in the 19th century was the New Worlders’ tendency to mock the English for their "slavish" devotion to their monarch).  To most Europeans, respecting titles is just a natural part of how their societies work.  Europeans tend to perceive Americans as lacking in a "proper" sense of respect and deference, and having an underdeveloped sense of personal dignity.  Plus, they will argue, for all the superficial equality in day-to-day social interaction, America is quite stratified, albeit along slightly different lines (think gated communities and income inequality).

This is why lots of intelligence (Willy Brandt), charm (Jacques Chirac), noble lineage (Prince Karel Schwarzenberg) — or being a novelist (Disraeli), poet (Dominique de Villepin) or intellectual (Michael Ignatieff) — aren’t necessarily advantages for American politicians.  These qualities make many American voters insecure and envious.  What makes a candidate Lee Marvinesque is displaying characteristics that ordinary people — even deeply imperfect ones — can imagine themselves possessing.  Not everyone can be intelligent or charming or can write 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 for a box company in Tustin, California.  And any woman, for that matter, may not have exquisite taste in clothes, a perfect figure, or a degree from an respected university.  But any woman can be a good mother, can be a devout and reliable member of a respected church, and can volunteer for worthy charities.  For that matter, any woman can also display some of the admirable male "everyday guy" characteristics, and vice-versa.

But wait, isn’t America ruled by millionaires?  Sure, but the standard model of the American dream holds that anyone can become rich, as long as she has enough grit, gumption, and determination.  The important thing for purposes of retail, day-to-day politics is not how much money you have, but whether you’re able to project a "regular-guy" persona, and whether you display "regular guy" virtues.  Lee Marvinesque virtues.  That’s what John McCain does with fearful effectiveness. 

9 thoughts on “Clarification of the Deleuze/Marvin Spectrum

  1. “They listen to commentators praise a U.S. political candidate for being the “kind of guy you could drink a beer with” and scratch their heads.”
    That reminds me of Franz Josef Strauß who said about Helmut Kohl that ordinary people like him because he gives them the feeling that they, too, could be chancellor of Germany.

    “Europeans tend to concentrate more on the candidate’s qualifications, and will give credit to a candidate who has achieved various status distinctions in their societies.”
    Yes and no, think of Joschka Fischer whose only real qualification is a taxi driver’s licence.

    “Plus, they will argue, for all the superficial equality in day-to-day social interaction, America is quite stratified, albeit along slightly different lines (think gated communities and income inequality).”
    I also think Ivy League and 30,000$ yearly tuition fees to get a degree from a decent university, which is necessary in a lot of areas to get a well-paid job in the US. Then again, in the US you can get a student loan on conditions unthinkable in Europe.

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  2. “[…]you can be sued for not using the proper form of respectful address towards others.”
    Hasn’t been true for at least 10 years.

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  3. You have improved vastly on the model. However, it still can’t handle “W” or Richard Nixon, who openly wept on T.V. with his dog, a cocker spaniel named “Checkers” on hand, yet triumphed in 1972 like no one since, including Reagan, an unqualified man in all respects, who, one should remember starred with a chimp, a decidedly anti-Marvin role. The model needs only one adjustment, but a major one that shows McCain is doomed.

    Conservatives want to see the candidate with qualification sink — not that they like underdogs; that’s a myth, too — that includes candidates with the qualification of hero. Of course, they’ll fawn temporarily over manly oafs on the NFL frontlines or courageous soldiers (so long as they are visibly but not too seriously wounded) returned from war, but they really don’t want to be ruled by these types of people any more than Roman senators did.

    Should you revise the model once more, I’d recommend bearing in mind that the true conservative moto is not an obvious Lee Marvin variant but literally,”Hit THEM again; I can take it.” Self pity and pain avoidance is perfectly excusable, as Nixon proved, so long as one cultivates and projects this Supreme Conservative Value: the ability to look upon, and, indeed, cause, the suffering OF OTHERS without flinching.

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  4. @Nortbert:
    I think you’re wrong to believe that Helmut Kohl does not fit into Andrew’s general framework. Helmut Kohl himself DOES believe in titles and the dignity of political office, and he insisted of being “Dr. Kohl” throughout his political career. This gave him an aura of authority, which is (partly) why people voted for him. The idea that he became chancellor because he gave people “the feeling that they, too, could be chancellor of Germany” is nothing but a joke among educated elites. As for Joschka Fischer: his example demonstrates rather well that Germans are somehow obsessed with titles (in Fischer’s case “Herr Außenminister”). There are some offices in Germany (e.g. foreign minister, federal president, president of the constitutional court, captain of the national football team) that are guaranteed to win you the sympathy of the average folks. And Fischer never really was that amazingly popular before he became foreign minister.

    @Andrew:
    I think your observations regarding the European craving for titles and competence are correct. I just disagree with your positioning of Barack Obama on the Deleuze/Marvin spectrum (a brilliant model btw). Why is McCain so much more LeeMarvinesque than him?

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  5. I think Obama comes off pretty well in the ‘regular guy’ sweepstakes. Almost as well as McCain does, I think.

    Look at Obama’s career. He was Editor of the Harvard Law Review. Not exactly Regular Guy, I’l admit. But what does he do then? Does he take a $200K job in NYC or accept a clerkship with a Supreme Court justice, like 99%+ of the editors of law review editors of the major law schools do?

    Nope. He becomes a community activist in Chicago. This might not work for a caucasian guy because it would look like toffee-nosed precious leftism. But it worked for a black guy because it looks like taking care of your people, a regular guy virtue that even honkies like me can appreciate.

    I suppose ill-mannered sorts could point out that it could be considered resume-building for his Presidential campaign, but that’s just too Monday-Morning QB for me to accept. How could he know (back then) that his political career would take off as well as it has? I submit the answer is ‘no way’! Taking the judicial clerkship would have been the smartest move for Obama then (assuming his goal was a public career of some kind). Instead he chose to do something which was an extreme gamble (career-wise) but which gave him knowledge and credentials which could be useful, but only if he became a leader.

    I think Obama is uniquely well-placed to partially solve the single most vexing problem the US has right now – the perplexing problem of the negro underclass. Partially because of who he is; a negro man who has made it to the top & is undoubtably the most able negro leader born in the US since Martin Luther King. Partly because of his knowledge – he’s lived and worked with the underclass so presumably be has knowledge which any number of denziens of lefty think tanks utterly lack. I might vote for him on that issue alone, particularly as I see no lack of judgment, intellect, logic, or street smarts which would lead me to think he can’t handle the rest of the job well enough.

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  6. “This is why lots of intelligence (Willy Brandt), charm (Jacques Chirac), noble lineage (Prince Karel Schwarzenberg) — or being a novelist (Disraeli), poet (Dominique de Villepin) or intellectual (Michael Ignatieff) — aren’t necessarily advantages for American politicians. ”

    Can’t quite buy this, Andrew. Lots of intelligence (Richard Nixon), charm (John F Kennedy), noble lineage (Franklin Roosevelt), writer (Kennedy, again), poet (not sure, but show me a European poet who actually made it to the very top – de Villepin has not).

    Intellectual? It’s difficult to think of someone comparable to Ignatieff off the top of one’s head either in the US or Europe (or Canada for that matter!). Although one might accurately quip that the entire French political class have pretense to being public intellectuals – but miss by a lot, I think! Theodore Roosevelt or Dr. S. I. Hayakawa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._I._Hayakawa) might qualify.

    Ignatieff made a career as a public intellectual internationally, but primarily in London. But not a dry academic – he also worked as a commentator and film-maker for the BBC.He’s very much the jonny come lately in Canada, only having moved back there in 2005, the same year as he began his political career. He ran for the leadership of the Canadian Liberal Party in 2006, and now is the Deputy Leader.

    The basic problem of any true ‘public intellectual’ making a political career is ‘Bork syndrome’ (after Judge Robert Bork). Controversy is the PI’s stock in trade, and any active PI is going to lay down a trail of guncotton which can be used to blow him up politically. So a career like Ignatieff’s may be the only alternative – do your damage in the UK and then have a political career in Canada. Canada seems to be something of a heterodox in such matters – Ignatieff is far from the first Canadian political figure to shoot to the top almost instantly after having done something else for most of his life. The most notable US equivalent might be Reagan, but even Reagan took 16 years to become President after starting his political career in 1964.

    Interestingly, Ignatieff could be classified an aristocrat as well – he is the grandson of Count Paul Ignatieff, Minister of Education to Tsar Nicholas II.

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