Nine years later, when I was myself teaching one of those General Education courses [Soc Sci 5] as a young Instructor in Philosophy and General Education, Senator John F. Kennedy ran for the Presidency against Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, as my older readers will recall, was a rather creepy character. Recalling The Brothers Karamazov, I took to comparing him to Smerdyakov, saying that he bore to Kennedy the same relation that the bastard son bore to Ivan. This was, needless to say, a complicated snark, considering Dostoyevsky's evident distaste for the Western irreligious rationalistic philosophy that so fascinates Ivan.
In the past several days, the news has been dominated by the war that has broken out between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his fellow Republicans. A lengthy portrait of Cruz published by GQ [you can find it here] has provoked a good deal of discussion, especially with such tidbits as the revelation that when Cruz was a Harvard Law student, he let it be known to his fellow students that he would only study with graduates of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, and not with graduates of the "minor Ivies" like Brown and Penn.
Chris Matthews has, with considerable justification, spent a good deal of time comparing Cruz to the late Senator McCarthy, whom Cruz both physically resembles and in various ways manages to channel. But I have found myself thinking more and more about Smerdyakov. There is something both corrupt and pathetic in Cruz's endless self-advertisement and his obsessive fascination with the most external marks of intellectuality, such as his possession of degrees from Princeton and Harvard. Obama exhibits something of the same fascination [witness his otherwise incomprehensible support of Larry Summers], but in Obama this is modulated and humanized by a measure of genuine transactional intelligence and imagination [Chris, do not even bother -- I know you disagree]. Cruz is, in a sense, Obama's Smerdyakov.
Just a thought.