. . . Wednesday January 9, 2008

Just Win Baby: Hillary, Barack and the NFL

Last night I drove past a sports bar and peered through the misty windows to see what was on the tube. Expecting some NFL hype or NBA highlights, I saw instead Barack Obama making his New Hampshire concession speech.

It somehow made perfect sense. After all, politics (especially during the period from first caucus to final hanging chad) is basically a sport. You’re not going to hear a lot of wonkish parsing of the issues now that it’s game time. It’s all about performance.

Why did Hillary come from behind to win? Simple. She teared up a little during an interview. What was the moment of the night? The promise of a slightly different future healthcare path? Nah, it was Hillary’s “I found my voice” line.

And what will we focus on next? That’s obvious. How does Hillary harness her newfound momentum and what kind of fight does Obama show coming off the ropes. Oh, and of course, which one can say variants of the word “Change” the most times before the average voter shoots the television.

Who will win this election? There isn’t any doubt that the winner will be the candidate who performs the best over the next eleven months?

Are you looking forward to the general election debates because you want to hear some really juicy policy talk? Come on now.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as guilty as anyone of the sportization of American politics. Most political bloggers share much in common with the average sportstalk radio caller. The competition part of politics is the fun, simple and exciting part. Would you rather talk about Shiites and Sunnis or score a televised debate and bitchslap an opposing blogger?

We cover politics the same way we cover a sports. Are Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, and Tim Russert really any different than Chris Berman, John Madden and Cris Collinsworth? Shit, Olbermann calls the action in both sports.

We see the same kind of pregame and postgame coverage in elections and the NFL. During the pregame, the pundits tell us the keys to the game and who will succeed. And during the postgame the pundits tell us why they were wrong and what their wrongness means for the bigger picture moving forward.

In football, if a team loses by a point on a lucky play in the last second of a game, the talking heads will explain in great detail the strategic, coaching and on-field failures that led to that loss. The pundits apply the same deep thinking to the question of “what people across America are telling us” when a few thousand folks in New Hampshire change their minds about something.

Are your emotions and reactions as a supporter of a candidate much different than those you experience as a fan of a team? You throw parties to watch the big matches. You discuss the prospects for an upcoming contest and rehash the ups and downs of those concluded. If you attend a contest live, you bring your signs and pennants and cheer wildly.

In both sports and politics, we forgive ungracious actions when performed by members of our own team: Kicking, spitting in the face, stomping on one’s helmetless head, popping steroids, trash-talking (not to mention the stuff the athletes do). Is Al Davis’ famous refrain “Just win baby” any less at home in a campaign war room than the Raider’s locker room?

When it comes to sports and politics, everyone watching thinks they’re an expert. When I talk knowingly about football after spending hours listening sports radio, it all sounds pretty reasonable to me. When I encounter others who do the same, I think to myself: “What the fuck does this guy know about football and why does he waste any brain cycles on this garbage.” I basically feel the same way if someone tries to make a point about Dennis Kucinich.

Think it’s just coincidence that the Super Bowl and the similarly named Super Tuesday are only two days apart this year? This could be the 48 hour tailgate party of the century.

The players need to strap it on, suck it up and go out there and stick someone, baby.

Enjoy the game.

Concentration is important!