Basketball is the New Snobbery
Let's talk about sports in politics. Not athletes endorsing candidates, or the need to cast candidates in athletic terms. No, this is the apocalyptic extension of the "he is like me" issue that Dr. LIC treated a few weeks ago. Now, with Palin, we're down to "he is me."
So instead of just peppeting stump speeches with sports metaphors, or, as Obama does, allude to the Packers' loss when in Wisconsin and mention his own Bears misery, these candidates need to throw out the playbook and just talk about sports. Constantly and endlessly. Think about it: First, this election was about gas and corn syrup. Now it's shifted to the apoplectic market which, sorry, is way too abstract and removed from most people's lives. What's the perfect antidote? The National Football League, natch. I swear, if Barack just got up there—during the debate, even—and rattled off ten minutes of non-descript "who's hot, who's not" talk about this year's topsy-turvy beginning, he'd walk away the clear-cut winner. Not just "he watches football, like me," but "his brain is similarly consumed by it."
But of course, it has to be convincing, authentic. And therein lies the hitch. Notice, I'm only talking about the NFL—neither Obama nor McCain can claim a college team of note, unless you count Cindy's Trojans (a net minus?). Plus, as partisan as NFL fans are, they've got nothing on the provinicial trappings of college sports. So good look mentioning any other college team at Ole Miss. . . or finding any other sport that's really real before that audience. That's where the Obama campaign has the edge: Its multi-tiered, situational approach to just about everything could gauge where and when to use this tactic, as well as how much to mention his Bears versus the home team, and what exactly the audience would buy. Contrast that with McCain, whose best gimmick seems to be inserting city-specific Hall of Famers into his P.O.W. tales.
And then there's that tricky issue of race. Look, I know why Obama played up the basketball thing. It earned him cred in the black community, and made him seem young and hip. But even if the sport's no longer highly toxic on the identity politics front, it's still seen as a black game—unless you're laundered by a Big 10 program, or grew up playing in a lunch box. This News One piece by Drew Ricketts is a little strident for me, but it has a Dwyane Wade quote that, while it thrills me, is exactly why Big O's basketball identification could subtlely drag him down:
Wade: Wooooowww.... One thing about Obama is that he has his own style... and that's what we love. He's not the typical presidential candidate. Anyone else who's been in office before him knows that. He's not afraid to showcase his style. He loves to play basketball. He hoops and that's how he stays in shape. He doesn't run on a treadmill. You can go on and on about the arguments of policy and experience, but at the end of the day, hopefully he becomes our president. We'll all be better for it.
All I'm saying is, that's not going to hit voters the same way "that call sucked" is. It might even come across as alien or alienating. So while sports could win this election for someone, in Obama's case, it's going to involve some back-pedalling on his First Baller image. Or least an attempt to reach across the aisle and show that this kind of relationship with sports dones't mean he's shut out of discussing just what's going on with Favre on the Jets. Also, never mention the Chargers. Yeah, on second though, Big 10 alum seems almost as important as religious background when picking national candidates. Because that's what the people are buying: Not an echo of themselves, or someone who feels their pain, but someone who isn't about to feel joy or pain over that high-falutin' stuff outside their purview.
I could see Obama comparing the Bears QB situation to Bush's advisors, or McCain conflating Michael Vick and Jason Campbell. The smart move, though, is to leave all politics and policy behind. Just turn this into a contest to see who can talk sports better. Not more knowledgeably, or passionately, but just who can prove how much football they're really made of.
Also, fuck this.