»  National Review Online

March 12th, 2007

  The S.o.B. Factor


Apprised of the fact that the potato famine of 1846-7 may have killed a million Irish people, Lord Cardigan sniffed: "Not enough to do any good."

Plainly Lord Cardigan was a son of a bitch. That's the quality I want to talk about; but since the full expression offends the eyes of many, I'll abbreviate that last noun phrase to the common "SOB" in what follows. Furthermore, since we don't have what Prof. Jespersen called an "immaterial mass-word" to denote the quality of being an SOB, I'm just going to invent one pro tem: "SOBness." And finally — before I get properly started on bloviating, I mean — since I think Lord Cardigan set the gold standard for political SOBness, I'm going to quantify that quality on a Cardigan Scale, with zero as utter and immaculate lack of SOBness, and Lord Cardigan at 100, and every other degree of SOBness having a Cardigan Coefficient (CC) somewhere in between. Now let us proceed.

A meme has been going around in political blogdom this past few days. I caught it myself as it fluttered by last week, and recorded my thoughts on a different website:

If I look at my own reasons for favoring Rudy [Giuliani], part of it is my perception that Rudy is one mean, nasty son of a bitch. I like that in a President. After all, it's highly unlikely that the meanness and nastiness will be directed at me personally. It will, one hopes, be directed at America's enemies; and at our corrupt, dysfunctional, and costly federal bureaucracies; and (this was sure the case during his mayoralty) at the race-guilt shakedown lobbies; and at our moronic, venal, and cowardly congresscritters; and … Why on earth would anyone want a nice guy for president?

Really, seen in this light, the only question about Rudy is, does he have enough ornery meanness and nastiness to go round? Is he a big enough son of a bitch? Perhaps there's some kind of hormone treatment we can give Rudy, to make him even more of a pitiless, sneering, devious, wife-dumping jerk. I sure hope so.

The boss, though writing mainly about the competence factor and "executive prowess" (nice phrase, boss) the other day, made an oblique comment on Rudy's thuggish, jerk-ish qualities:

This doesn't mean that Giuliani will excel in the Temperament Primary. Some of the qualities that made him a successful mayor — the hunger for power, the jealousy of other centers of authority, the egocentric drive — don't make him the most pleasant person.

And Mark Steyn, responding to some clerihews of mine on the various presidential candidates, turned out half a dozen just on the subject of presidential ruthlessness, including this on Rudy:

Rudy G
Is one tough SOB.
He'll treat bin Laden
Like a wife he's discardin'.

The question for discussion is: Will the SOB factor help Rudy, or hurt him?

I believe it will help. Americans have no particular objection to their chief executive being an SOB. It would be interesting to draw up a list, like one of those "best presidents" rankings that historians come up with from time to time, showing all the presidents in order by SOBness. Who'd be at the top? I should think Old Hickory has a pretty good claim, with a Cardigan Coefficient of around 70. Richard Nixon was an SOB at about the CC-80 level in foreign policy, though all too often a pussycat at home — overall CC probably about 60. Lyndon Johnson liked to brandish a big CC-90 SOB image, but wussed out on everything important. I'd give him no better than a 40. Dwight Eisenhower had a much under-appreciated SOB streak, as did Ronald Reagan (I'd put them at overall 65 and 50, respectively).

Once you start trying to quantify the SOBness of presidents, though, you realize that you may be looking at something multidimensional. There are strong reasons to believe that Jimmy Carter is an SOB in private, but he was pure mush as a chief executive — presidential CC surely less than 10. As Nixon illustrated, you can be an SOB in some policy areas but not others.

Psephologically, too, SOBness raises some problems. There is likely a big gender gap in voters' responses to SOBness. Men, speaking very generally, are more receptive to SOBness than women. In fact, the female equivalent of an SOB, which is of course just a B, is viewed differently by women than an SOB is by men. Clarity on this point may improve greatly as the 2008 presidential campaign proceeds, since we are blessed with not only an SOB in the race, but a B too. We might even end up going into the November '08 voting booth to face a choice between the SOB and the B, which will be very instructive.

In any case, as the public becomes more aware of his record and background, Rudy Giuliani will surely have the SOB vote in his pocket. Even Rudy's physical appearance says "SOB!" — especially the mouth, which seems always to be trying to hold back a sneer. Rudy will need to make it plain that he's only going to be an SOB to the right people, the ones I began listing (how could one ever finish listing them?) in my self-quoted remarks up above, but for a guy as smart as Rudy, it shouldn't be a problem.

So far as I can judge, the country right now would be receptive to a high-CC presidential candidate. The notion of our president treating Osama bin Laden the way Rudy has treated his wives has a lot of appeal.

A great many of us seem to have had enough of the softer, feminized, kumbaya approach to matters both domestic and foreign. Our well-intentioned efforts to do good in various spheres — to Arabs (Operation Iraqi Freedom), to unacademic kids (No Child Left Behind), to poor Central Americans (you're not "illegal," only "undocumented"!) — have left us with a bunch of messes to be cleaned up. While we get down to it with the mops and shovels, perhaps we'd prefer to have the federal power in the hands of a person who fits the self-description offered in the USMC version of the 23rd Psalm:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil:
For I am the meanest SOB in the valley.