I was reading something in the Huffington Post the other day and it said that Newt Gingrich had called President Obama “something childish and unprofessional”. I couldn’t imagine what it was, so I did a little research and apparently Mr. Gingrich had called Mr. Obama “chicken”! I thought to myself, “What is he, ten years old?”. Then it struck me, that’s exactly it! Remember the cute, pudgy in grammar school who called kids “chicken”? Newt Gingrich is that guy — all not grown up! He’s Dennis the Menace! He’s Huck Finn! He’s one of the Little Rascals! And that’s what we like about him: he says the things we would have said when we were young and innocent and boyish. I’m clear on that “boyish” thing, by the way. I have a 10 year old girl and she’d never call someone “chicken”. She might taunt someone another way or about another thing, but the fact is that saying “you’re not aggressive enough” would never enter her mind.
But back to Newt: honestly, I think I’m on to something here. He plays up the boyish charm and we think he’s cute, somehow. He’s a rascal, a rabscallion, he’s impish… and he’s as simple about politics around him as a ten-year-old. When he says something goofy, we all think “He’s just being honest”… As honest as any ten year old ever was.
There’s a reason, though, why we don’t let ten year old boys become President. A slingshot is not foreign policy. Putting frogs down a girls dress isn’t the way to handle say, Hillary Clinton, or the dissident who won a Nobel prize. Laughing at nerds doesn’t make for a good economic strategy. We all want to remember innocence and misunderstanding as “those cute things kids say”. I, anyway, like innocence as much as anybody. But misunderstanding and, say, nukes, don’t bode well for the world. The Kid in all of us is cute, because his (or her) world is the playground. How much damage can they do there? Only a playground’s worth. Then the big people take over, because Junior could get run over by a car.
I wonder, as I think about it, whether Sarah Palin wouldn’t think it were cute if a ten-year-old put a frog down her dress. I think she’d think it was cute in the same way building a tree fort that said “No Girls Allowed!” was. She’d giggle and think, “He can’t possibly mean that!” but he would, because — at least in my childhood — ten-year-old boys thought girls were “yucky” and “mushy” and stuff.
Bill O’Reilly has started (or maybe I just noticed) with the same thing, taunting Mitt Romney saying, “Are you a tough guy?” . I wonder how many other professional Right-Wingers think the same way. President Obama looks way too serious to be playing with those boys. He acts like a Big Person if you’re ten.
By the way, I hear that Mr. Gingrich is a very smart man — an intellectual of sorts — or he fancies himself one. I have no doubt that Bill O’Reilly, as much as I dislike his opinions, is also very smart. He certainly makes more money than I do for what he does, and that kind of success requires a certain intelligence. Sarah Palin was governor of a state, for goodness sake. Clearly, she’s got something go on in her head. But I can picture her putting on lipstick in front a “big girl” mirror wearing her mother’s fake pearls, just to see what it’s like.
The problem comes when the 10 year old walks around in a however-old-he-is body. One doesn’t really expect an adult to leave his wife while she’s got cancer because the girl around the corner likes him. One doesn’t really expect an adult to quit her job just because the job gets hard or because she’d like to do something else now. I hope Bill O’Reilly’s never stuck his tongue out at a guest, but — if I’m right — I wouldn’t be surprised. This is where the scandals come in — when that cute little child is asked to always Act Like An Adult, which is the job of the President. If they can pass that test, then they can qualify to run.
I don’t mean to pick on Gingrich, Palin, O’Reilly (or Limbaugh or Bachmann or Herman Cain) because that’s who they are. What I’m fascinated by is that we, as Americans, take such delight in them. We are (or maybe it’s just the media) “hooked” by them somehow. Maybe they represent a simpler time, or “pure” innocence. They represent something in us that we genuinely liked — at ten. They represent something we miss in ourselves now. Nor do I mean to just pick on conservatives — I bet Bill Clinton’s got a little of that boyish charm thing going, too, but look at his scandal. And Clinton was a Rhodes scholar, so he’s no intellectual slouch either. The idea, though, that “boys will be boys” — and I mean real boys — is an acceptable idea to some people in politics is an idea worth considering, but it’s one that will get us in trouble once we’re called to deal with adult issues.