Thousands of American University students gathered in the basketball arena Friday night to present Bill Clinton with their inaugural “Wonk of the Year” award. While some might be offended by such a label, the 42nd president seemed amused.
“I love being wonky,” Clinton said. “Thank you very much.”
Since 2010, American has aggressively branded itself as a hotbed of wonks. The term “wonk” gained popularity during the Clinton administration and is now generally used to describe a well-versed insider who takes his or her passion for policy to an extremely nerdy level.
The campaign inspired student members of the Kennedy Political Union, which brings political speakers to campus, to create the award. Clinton was their first and only contestant, said Alex Kreger, director of the group.
”He is the first person who comes to mind when you say wonk,” said Kreger, 20, a sophomore history and political science major from Fort Collins, Colo. “He was the one that we wanted to go for.”
Not everyone is a fan of the wonk campaign. One student stood outside American’s Bender Arena on Friday night with signs that read: ”Occupy Wonk Street” and “Take back our branding!”
Clinton told the students that he’s not offended by the label and shared a conversation he once had with political consultant James Carville during a run for the presidency.
“He said, ‘You can’t be a wonk and a redneck. You’ve got to be a wonk or a redneck,’ ” Clinton said, as the crowd laughed. “I love, deeply, when people make fun of me for being wonky, because I figured people wanted a president who actually knew something.”
After accepting the award, Clinton spoke for more than an hour about the work of his foundation, the inter-connectedness of the world, advances in science and “embracing our common humanity.” He also answered a handful of questions from students about the economy, the upcoming elections and his accomplishments since leaving office.
Meanwhile, dozens of students and others (including a Post intern) tweeted what they found to be the most interesting snippets of the night:
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Bill Clinton receives American University award for wonkiness (featuring live tweets from the event by the Post’s @SylviaCarignan )