Author’s note: I use an extended metaphor relating politics to football throughout this post.
I’m not alone when I say that I love sports. Whether it’s watching the Atlanta Braves or the Kansas City Royals, the Georgia Bulldogs or the Washington Redskins, the Detroit Redwings or the Philadelphia Flyers, I enjoy watching and sometimes playing sports, as do most Americans and people throughout the world.
Most sports are physical, where some form of contact between players is either a happenstance of the game or designed into the sport itself. Take a look at football, where linemen push each other around attempting to either protect or sack the quarterback, and where tackling the ball carrier is a requirement. In hockey hard hits, checking and the occasional shove are common. Baseball sometimes requires a base runner to plow over a catcher. In most sports, there is some manner of either striking, moving or standing in the path of another player.
The other day, I wrote about Barack Obama’s being upset with George Stephanopoulos’ use of a dictionary during an interview to define the word “tax.” Since then, the analogy between politics and sports has been impossible for me to ignore.
Probably the most important position in football is Quarterback. I’m a defense-minded fan and like to argue that linebackers make or break a team, but the reality is that without a quarterback to lead and to hand-off, toss, pass and occasionally even run the ball, the team cannot score points to win. In the analogy between football and politics, the Democrats are currently on offense, that is, they are trying to push their agenda. On the other hand the Republicans are on defense trying to stop the Democrats from “scoring,” or passing legislation. Barack Obama is the quarterback, while Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and other Democrats are other offensive players.
Okay, I didn’t intend a pun there.
In any event the President, whatever the party, becomes the leader of the team. Finding the leader of the defense, Republicans in this case, is a little more difficult. Usually, it would be the minority leader in one of the two houses, but the Republicans are weak there. Instead, several other individuals seem to be vying for the position.
Again in football, there are times when the offense is on its heels. The defense pushes the line back and puts pressure on the quarterback. That seems to be what is going on now with the Democrats: They expected to march “Cap & Trade” and “Health Care Reform” down the field against the Republicans, only to face resistance from unexpected places. Obama, as the quarterback, has a few choices:
- He can hand the ball off to the running back. He did this when he put the reform bill entirely in the care of the House of Representatives. They failed to gain. Second down.
- He can roll out of the pocket and, giving him time to find a new receiver or toss the ball to another player. He did this when he went on vacation this summer at Martha’s Vineyard. Mobs at townhall meetings left his receivers covered, forcing him to throw the ball away. Third down.
- He can step up, plant his feet and throw the ball. He tried this with his health care reform speech. He threw and got hit, but Joe Wilson was called for Roughing the Passer. Fortunately for the Republicans, Obama got called for intentional grounding (that is, Joe Wilson turned out to be right). Penalties offset. Still third down.
President Obama now has to sell Health Care Reform to America. Somehow, he has to get to the endzone (passing the legislation), or at least the next set of downs (moving the legislation to to a floor vote).
Unfortunately, the President seems to be afraid of one thing: When a quarterback is under pressure and cannot roll out of the pocket, he can attempt to throw the ball, attempting to force a reception during a bad situation while taking a huge risk of being intercepted, or he can simply tuck the ball, try to run and maybe take the hit and be dropped for a sack. If he takes the hit, he gets dropped for a loss but usually protects the football.
The problem is, Barack Obama never learned to take a hit. He was never really challenged by the media during his campaign, except by talk radio, Fox News and a few internet blogs. He rarely faced a major challenge for lower political office, and John McCain’s campaign peaked in the Republican primary. No matter what, this down appears to be a bad one for the Democrats. Obama has already been hit, and it looks like the Republicans are about to sack him. Will he throw the ball away or take the hit?
From the looks of his interview with George Stephanolpoulos last week, it seems that he’ll throw it away. He might get away with an incomplete, but he’ll be taking a big risk.
Of course, the Democrats still have their so-called “nuclear option,” the trick play called “reconciliation.” Like a punter who grabs the ball and instead of kicking it runs for a first down, the Democrats can use reconciliation to push forward on their healthcare “reform” plans. Regardless of whether they use this tactic or not, they will get there because their President, their leader, their quarterback won’t tuck the ball and take a hit when he needs to. President Obama will not go to the places where he knows he’ll be challenged. He won’t appear on Fox News, his Administration will not talk to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz or Glenn Beck, and he won’t directly answer his challengers.
No football team wants a quarterback who throws the ball when he should tuck and take a hit. Quaterbacks who don’t recognize when they can’t get the ball where it needs to go aren’t leaders, just as Presidents who won’t go to opposition media and sell their policies to the American people aren’t effective and pushing legislation.
Effective presidents have to be able to get the cooperation of those who oppose them. That means facing their detractors in unfriendly territory. President Obama seems entirely unwilling.