Washington is a place where people wear a lot of khaki and are considered well-dressed. It's where ugly people go to become stars. It's where bespectacled nerds go to reinvent themselves as brawlers. The ranks of nerds who've become political manly men is large. George W. Bush is the most obvious one -- the former cheerleader from Connecticut somehow convinced everyone that he was a brush-clearing cowboy from Texas. More recently, we had Jon Huntsman, the son of a billionaire whose entire campaign strategy was to trick political reporters into thinking he was cool with photos of him on a motorcycle or in a jean jacket, and then to release ads of a motocross driver cruising through the desert. The American people did not buy it, and Huntsman is still a little mad at the press for failing to help him sell it.
This week, we have a case study in the type: Mitt Romney's top aide -- he prefers "utility player" -- Eric Fehrnstrom, who is profiled by GQ's Jason Zengerle. Fehrnstrom, famous-for-D.C. for getting in fights on Twitter, hits all the key points of this familiar character: the nails-for-breakfast straight-shooting potty-mouthed punch-you-as-soon-as-look-at-you male political aide -- and sometimes it manifests in politicians too. But it's all disconcerting since these men usually look less like Olympic athletes than Olympic mascots. They eat french fries and ride on buses. Most importantly, they make a living using words to describe changing relationships between people, which is, if you believe in evolutionary psychology, the girliest job of all time. Nevertheless, every four years, you read about dorks who've become the embodiment of machismo. Zengerle writes about how Fehrnstrom was toughened up at the start of his career as a reporter for the Boston Herald, a place where people used word processors as weapons:
"The Herald was like the schoolyard bully," Howie Carr, the legendary Boston brawler who was the paper's top columnist and animating spirit, told me. "We were all about finding people and kicking them when they were down. And then we'd laugh about it."
What kind of bully brawler was Carr? He told Wellesley Weston Magazine in 2006 that in high school, "they said you had to have extra-curriculars to get into a good college. I wasn’t a good athlete, but I looked around to see if there was stuff I could do." He discovered writing for the newspaper like the nerd he is deep down inside. You can tell this by the profile's accompanying photo, in which Carr is wearing glasses and talking with his hands.