Jonah Goldberg
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Look, everything is relative, and social distinctions tend to matter only at your own level and above. If you're the prom queen or the captain of the football team, everyone outside your clique is a nerd. And if you're the czar, everyone outside the royal court is a peasant. For good reasons and bad, Washington is a magnet for sports stars, war heroes and businessmen. That doesn't make them nerds.

We have never had a nerd president. All of them tend to have a mixture of resentment, admiration and contempt for the nerds. And that goes especially for Barack Obama, who, more than most, seems to care deeply about seeming cool.

The elite D.C. press corps calls its annual gala the "nerd prom" because it sounds self-deprecating around the Hollywood stars and New York bigwigs (while actually playing on their insecurities) and the politicians. They admire the former for being more famous than them, and resent the latter for being more famous than them.

It's vanity-as-branding. What they're really trying to say is: "The only difference between this and the Oscars is we're really smart." It's of a piece with the seemingly self-deprecating, but really self-serving, slogan "Washington is Hollywood for ugly people." No, it's really not.

Now don't get me wrong. I also have contempt for the people who flock to the dinner in order to cozy up to power for the sake of bragging about cozying up to power. In his mixed performance at this year's "nerd prom," late-night host Jimmy Kimmel said, "Everything that is wrong with America is here in this room." He was right. He wasn't talking about the nerds.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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