WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE PHILOSOPHER?….This is getting silly. Are we now going to ask all of our presidential candidates who their favorite philosopher is?

You gotta give George Bush credit, though, for answering “Jesus Christ” during the 2000 debates. After he dropped that tactical nuke on his fellow Republicans, you either had to mumble something along the lines of “what he said” (bad) or else admit to having a philosopher you liked better than Jesus (worse). Dubya may not have paid attention in school, but he sure knows his audience.

Still, let’s face it: this is a really hard question. Most of us barely even know any philosophers (“Um, Plato? Wasn’t he Greek? Oh, and that other Greek guy too….”), and we don’t really know anything about the ones we have heard of. (Matt Yglesias does, of course, but he doesn’t count.) So as a public service I’d like to offer up some safe, patriotic, and audience-friendly choices for Gephardt, Kerry, Dean, and all the other wannabes in case they get asked:

  • Moderately intellectual choice, suitable for being interviewed by George Will: Vaclav Havel. Talking points: last of poet philosophers, believes in the power of the human spirit, staunch anti-communist, thinks murderous Muslims are bad. Avoid: used to be a chain smoker, has said nice things about Bill Clinton.

  • Funny choice, suitable for being interviewed on MTV: Homer Simpson. Talking points: laughter makes us look at ourselves, Springfield part of the heartland, loves his family. Avoid: support for nuclear power, general idiocy.

  • Multicultural choice, suitable for being interviewed by New York Times: Martin Luther King Jr. Talking points: spoke to all races, touched our hearts and minds, showed that violence isn’t necessary for social change. Avoid: reputation for womanizing, apparent belief that blacks are not treated very well in America.

  • Populist choice, suitable for being interviewed by Parade: Will Rogers. Talking points: has place in Guiness Book of World Records for throwing three lassos at once, champion of the common man, underneath folksy manner was a serious thinker. Avoid: Um, nothing, really. Nice guy, family man, born in Cherokee territory, everybody’s heard of him, lots of cool quotes you can use to backstop pretty much any opinion on any subject, and you can even credibly assert that you’ve actually read his work and like it.

  • Safely patriotic choice, suitable for being interviewed by Rush Limbaugh: Thomas Jefferson. Talking points: wrote Declaration of Independence, man of the people, “tree of liberty must be refreshed etc.” Avoid: owned slaves, vaguely disreputable religious beliefs, liked France.

  • Thoughtful choice, suitable for being interviewed on PBS: Albert Einstein. Talking points: fled Nazi Germany, nice pacifist guy, but told FDR to start cranking out the nukes when the chips were down. Avoid: reputation for womanizing, one-worldism.

  • Anti-terrorism choice, suitable for being interviewed by Andrew Sullivan: George Orwell. Talking points: opposed both Nazis and fascists, and opposed communists too! Avoid: liberal social inclinations, early writings.

And me? I’m a Hobbesian: life is nasty, brutish, and short.

Coming next week: safe, patriotic, audience friendly “favorite books” in case our presidential candidates get asked about that.