Richard Nixon Vs. Cool
In the highlights post on class, I wrote:
When I was in middle school, I used to wonder - there are cool kids and uncool kids, right? But suppose all the uncool kids agreed to think of themselves as cool, and to make fun of the currently-cool kids. Then you would just have two groups of kids, each considering themselves superior and looking down on the other. And the currently-uncool-kid group would be bigger and probably win, insofar as it’s possible to win these things. So why don’t they do that? I have lots of partial answers, but still no satisfying one. I feel the same way about the [cultural] upper class.
IR responded in the comments:
In Rick Perlstein's excellent "Nixonland", he says that Richard Nixon had exactly this idea in college, and managed to make it work pretty well. He also ties this in to Nixon's future success at building a Republican "silent majority" coalition of anti-hippie reaction vs. the latte-sipping NYT-reading 70s liberal "consensus". If I may quote at length:
“As a schoolboy he hadn't a single close friend, preferring to cloister himself up in the former church's bell tower, reading, hating to ride the school bus because he thought the other children smelled bad. At Whittier, a fine Quaker college of regional reputation unknown anywhere else, he embarked upon what might have been his most humiliating job of all: learning to be a backslapping hail-fellow-well-met. ("I had the impression he would even practice his inflection when he said 'hello,'" a reporter later observed.) The seventeen-year-old blossomed when he realized himself no longer alone in his outsiderdom: the student body was run, socially, by a circle of swells who called themselves the Franklins, and the remainder of the student body, a historian noted, "seemed resigned to its exclusion." So this most unfraternal of youth organized the remnant into a fraternity of his own. Franklins were well-rounded, graceful, moved smoothly, talked slickly. Nixon's new club, the Orthogonians, was for the strivers, those not to the manner born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one's unpolish was a nobility of its own. Franklins were never photographed save in black tie. Orthogonians worse shirtsleeves. "Beans, brains, and brawn" was their motto. He told them *orthogonian*—basically, "at right angles"—meant "upright," "straight shooter." Also, their enemies might have added, all elbows.
“The Orthogonians' base was among Whittier's athletes. On the surface, jocks seem natural Franklins, the Big Men on Campus. But Nixon always had a gift for looking under social surfaces to see and exploit the subterranean truths that roiled underneath. It was an eminently Nixonian insight: that on every sports team there are only a couple of stars, and that if you want to win the loyalty of the team for yourself, the surest, if least glamorous, strategy is to concentrate on the nonspectacular—silent—majority. The ones who labor quietly, sometimes resentfully, in the quarterback's shadow: the linemen, the guards, the punter. Nixon himself was exemplarily nonspectacular: the 150-pounder was the team's tackle dummy, kept on squad by a loving, tough, and fatherly coach who appreciated Nixon's unceasing grit and team spirit—nursing hurt players, cheering on the listless, even organizing his own team dinners, entertaining the guests on the piano, perhaps favoring them with the Orthogonian theme song. It was his own composition.
“Nixon beat a Franklin for student body president. Looking back later, acquaintances marveled at the feat of this awkward, skinny kid the yearbook called "a rather quiet chap about campus," dour and brooding, who couldn't even win a girlfriend, who attracted enemies, who seemed, a schoolmate recalled, "the man least likely to succeed in politics." They hadn't learned what Nixon was learning. Being hated by the right people was no impediment to political success. The unpolished, after all, were everywhere in the majority.”
On the strength of this quote, I’ve ordered Nixonland and will be looking into it further.