I Follow Politics like Some Follow Sports

I follow political campaigns like other men follow football. I guess is my “couch sport”—a rough physical sport I watch from the safety of my own couch. I’ve watched two football games so far this season. I’ve seen 10 of 11 Republican debates. This all started early. My first political campaign was in 1952-1953, as seven-year old boy I went door to door to make sure Dwight Eisenhower was not beaten by the godless Unitarian, Adlai Stevenson. I caught enough from church folk to understand that the fate of the country was hanging in the balance. I must have been effective—Ike won in a landslide. I was so excited by this that I taped the front page of the newspaper on my coat and went to school expecting everyone else to celebrate. In the school yard I met my first Democrat who not-very-tenderly tore the celebratory newspaper off my coat. After that I was quieter in promoting candidates, but continued throughout childhood to listen to and watch political news like my dad watched baseball.

I went to college in the 60’s when most students were against the Viet Nam war. Not in my college. One Christmas we were intent on attracting the attention of the national news media with our Christmas manger scene. While other young people were burning their draft cards and shouting “Hell no, we won’t go” we intended to show an alternative political view from our college. We conceived (with a bit of help from the administration) an outdoor manger scene in a triptych layout. In the center was the traditional manger scene complete with a sheep and Mary and Joseph. On the left we raised a large cross representing Christ’s death. Then on the right we hauled in a panel truck and turned it into an Army ambulance complete with mud and blood. In front of the left and right scenes we painted in large letters, “As He died to make men holy…. Let us die to make men free.” The point was simple: As Jesus died on the cross we young folk should give our lives for freedom in Viet Nam. Our Christmas political statement never made national news, but we made a statement to our neighborhood in Allentown, PA.

So I have consistently been interested in political races, like others are interested in horse races or football. I know, I know, most folk think this is a waste of time and I agree that it is pure entertainment. While other men (and some women too) remember great football plays from the past, I remember great lines in political debates. I get a grin on my face when I remember Lloyd Bentsen’s 100 yard dash into the end zone with 3 second left on the clock with his: “I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.” Or, one of the best scrambling touchdown passes ever was during the New Hampshire primary debate when Reagan tossed out, "I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.” Reagan also did one of the very best prepared plays too. When the 73 year-old Reagan ran for reelection against Walter Mondale he was asked about his age and retorted, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

I have just as much fun remembering great fumbles that were game-changers, though always with a bit of sympathy for the players. In 1976 Jerry Ford produced one of the greatest turnovers in history with, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” (This was long before the Berlin Wall came down.) In 2000 most everyone expected Al Gore to beat George Bush. But Gore acted like a smarty pants letting out audible and exaggerated {sighs} {sighs} as if he was too smart to have put up with a C student like Bush. All C students and everyone who had a smarty-pants in their own family or at their job switched their vote and Bush won. Big fumble.

This year’s debates have offered a few good plays and fumbles too. Romney hit Jon Huntsman with, “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking. And I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you have got to let both people speak. So first, let me speak." When Huntsman was asked about Cain’s 9-9-9 he said, "I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it." Rick Perry tossed a zinger into Romney’s backfield with, "I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. ... We'll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we're talking to tonight."

This year’s debates have offered great fumbles too. A memorable uncompleted pass by Rick Perry: “The third one, I can’t, I’m sorry, oops.” Or quarterback Herman Cain got sacked when he called Wolf Blitzer “Blitz.” Even Mitt Romney (who usually plays a boring/safe game) fumbled with, "I'm Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name." (Oops, Mitt’s first name is actually Willard.)

So when ordinary guys are talking about the playoffs and Super Bowl, I am mostly thinking of a longer season… the political season that started last summer and extends until November 2012. But, like most sports fans, I really don’t take it too seriously. Indeed, I think that’s one thing sports and politics have in common: who wins and loses makes a little difference… but not much.

So, what do you think?
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Keith Drury November 29, 2011

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