In retrospect, I feel as though the failure of Mitt Romney’s campaign could be fully captured in the “impromptu” football game he organized in Florida between members of his staff and the media about two weeks before election day. On paper it’s a good enough idea: show the American people that your candidate is just another good ole boy like them who likes nothing better than spending his afternoon off chucking the pigskin around the yard with his closest employees and media entourage. The only problem is that during the photo-op, Romney doesn’t stick around for the game itself and never even touches the damn football. In this scenario, Romney plays the special guest referee who flips the commemorative coin before briefly shifting into Knute Rockne mode to light a fire under his team. More than anything, this carefully crafted media opportunity proved the very point that the campaign was looking to discredit—namely, that Romney was a holier-than-thou plutocrat who wouldn’t know a good time if it kicked him in the ass and was more comfortable hanging over people than hanging out with them.
All the Romney camp had to do was look across the way at their competition to see how the sportsman’s POTUS acts. Every year, President Obama takes care to pick his official NCAA Men’s and Women’s tournament brackets with ESPN (predictably, he always goes chalk), invited Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons to The White House for an interview and, memorably, “beat” CBS college basketball analyst and former Ohio State star Clark Kellogg in a game of HORSE at the White House. And, it’s not like the Mom Jean Wearer in Chief is an awesome ballplayer or anything. He was just able to display a basic level of competence and enthusiasm for a sport in a believable way. By and large, Americans want to feel like their President is a relatable guy (or gal), and in order for that to be true, the President in question has to be a sports fan with a baseline amount of athletic ability. Case in point: go back and take a look at President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Game Three of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. This is the first World Series game in New York City since 9/11 and President Bush comes strutting out in front of a capacity crowd collectively losing their shit, chanting, “USA! USA!” and gives them the thumbs up from the mound before rocking back and, with a flak jacket on underneath his jacket, fires a strike right down the middle of the plate. I think George W Bush is one of the 5 worst Presidents in our nation’s history and I can’t watch that clip without getting goosebumps. As the President himself said, “I wanted to make sure that if I was going to throw out the ball, I was able to do so with a little zip, you know, I didn’t want the American people to think their President was incapable of finding the plate.” George W Bush was incapable of doing a lot of things, but throwing a fastball was not one of them, a fact that helps explain the affinity a lot of Americans had for him.
So, in an effort to formally wed the worlds of sports and politics—and create a worthwhile conceit for an article—I’ve decided to hand out some hardware for politicians in Washington who have performed exemplarily thus far in 2013, for good or ill. Given the fact that we are knee-deep in the NBA Playoffs and that the greatest dual threat congressman in our nation’s history was Hall of Fame Knicks forward and Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Bradley(1), I thought it would be best to name the awards after the NBA players that best exemplify the conduct of their Congressional others:
The Joakim Noah Award (For the politician whose opponents absolutely can’t stand, but would love if they switched parties): Rand Paul (R-KY)
If ideology is put aside and you’re judging solely on style without any input from substance, there isn’t a Democrat or liberal alive who wouldn’t want the type of grassroots enthusiasm and headline grabbing grandstanding that Paul brings with him. His epic #StandWithRand, anti-drone filibuster earlier this year set Twitter on fire and proved that, just like his pops, Rand Paul can whip up rabid support and controversy with little more than a microphone, a C-Span feed and the endless supply of talking points in his curly ginger noggin. Like Bulls forward Joakim Noah, Paul seems to thrive on the negative energy of his detractors as much as the support of his followers, seemingly getting more impervious to attack as he moves farther from his base. Anyone who publicly states that they think private business owners have a right to deny service based on race and later speaks to a crowd at Howard University about how the GOP is the party of Civil Rights is a guy who can inspire endless devotion in his base and bemused anger among his opposition.
The Damian Lillard Award (for the rookie congressional standout in the 113th Congress): Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):
From her first appearance at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, people knew they finally had a woman in Congress who wasn’t going to take any shit from the financial sector. It was cathartic to watch Warren grill banking regulators on just exactly what they had been doing to prosecute bank fraud and regulatory failures on the part big banks and bring them to trial. It was clear from their abject terror and shock, that the regulators were used to a warmer welcome from the Senators on the committee and hadn’t considered heavily the prospect that they might be taken to task for their gross inaction. Just the look on Office of the Comptroller of Currency Head Thomas Curry as Warren grills him over when, if ever, he had actually taken a Wall Street bank to trial is priceless. It’s like seeing a bunch of mischievous kindergarteners being brought into the Principal’s office and made to explain their bad behavior. And, to solidify her hold on award as Congress’ top rookie, Warren just introduced her first piece of legislation, The Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act, which would enable students to take out loans at the same 0.75% rate that banks receive.
The Metta World Peace Award (for the politician most likely to charge into the viewing gallery in the Capitol and start punching random folk): Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
How crazy is Louie Gohmert? On the first day of the 113th Congress, the Republican Representative for Texas’s 1st District cast his vote for Florida Tea Party darling Allen West for Speaker of the House. Why is that crazy? Well, principally because Allen West had just been defeated in his bid for re-election two months earlier and was not even a member of the 113th Congress. Had Gohmert cast his vote for a slab of granite or set his ballot on fire it would have had the exact same impact and validity as voting for a man who who wasn’t even a member of Congress. Since that non-vote, Gohmert has only piled on the crazy, most recently saying on C-Span that “Radical Islamists” are “being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic]” so they can cross the border from Mexico to the US. It shouldn’t come as a shock that Gohmert is one of the loudest climate change deniers in Washington, but at least his general lunacy allows for his arguments to at least be novel. During a debate over the development of an Alaskan oil pipeline, Gohmert made the claim that it would be harmful to the environment to halt to flow of oil because it was serving as a man-made aphrodisiac for Alaskan caribou. According to Gohmert, the Caribou really like all the heat coming off the oil as it’s piped through, “so when they want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline” for some hanky-panky. Gohmert expressed, with a straight face, that he was worried that stopping the flow of oil might hamper the sex lives of the caribou.
Kobe Bryant Award (for politician who really shouldn’t be allowed on Twitter: Steve Cohen (D-TN)
Here is tweet that Representative Cohen hastily deleted after getting a little too excited at a Cyndi Lauper concert. 21 minutes in real time is an eternity on the internet:
Lebron James Award (for Congress’ Most Valuable Politician): Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Senator Sanders is what the Democratic Party should be, which is why he’s an independent. Sanders is one of the Senate’s chief advocates for green energy policies and acknowledges the severity of the threat of global warming, while also cautioning against the creation of more nuclear energy plants due to their potential for environmental disaster. Senator Sanders has been a tireless champion of transparency in government, business and media, vociferously denouncing the the bailout of big finance after the 2007 market crash and fighting against the continued existence of the Bush tax cuts. Sanders supports a single payer universal health care system, LGBT equality and is pro-choice. He is that rarest of things: a principled politician.
1. If you were creating a starting lineup of DC’s all-time Atheleticians, I’d go with Bradley, HOF Pitcher and KY Senator Jim Bunning, HOF Nebraska Cornhusker football coach and Rep. Tom Osborne, Buffalo Bills QB and 1996 GOP VP nominee Jack Kemp and HOF Pistons forwards and current Detroit mayor Dave Bing.