The best insights on life and politics are often found in the sports pages. In the Washington Post today, columnist Thomas Boswell makes this point in a column about pitching prodigy Stephen Strasburg: “The great ones play above the breaks.”
The line made me wonder: Can President Obama play above the breaks? Will he be remembered for his great leadership or bad breaks?
Continues Boswell on the struggling Washington Nationals ace: “Somehow, through talent and athletic arrogance, perhaps mixed with a bit of disdain for the opinion of mankind, the best ballplayers ignore everything that is not of use to them. They perform outside, above, or in defiance of errors by teammates, unfair criticism, poor run support, lousy umpires, dumb media and the infuriating way that the best hitters keep ruining their almost perfect pitches. A bad break, what’s that?”
At the risk of torturing the comparison, Boswell could have been just as easily writing about Obama. Boundlessly talented and confident, the president plays in a tough league of his own. He’s got error-prone teammates (Democratic leaders and White House staff). He gets unfair criticism (conservative leaders and staff). He’s judged by lousy umpires and dumb media (sums up my work, anyhow). And opposing hitters ruin his best pitches (John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are the heart of the Obstructionists’ order).
On that score, we should include the structural problems of Washington that hurt Obama’s game. These include the Senate filibuster, hyper-partisan House districts, polarized media outlets, and a fast-changing electorate that is sorting itself in political tribes.
A bad break, what’s that? Politics isn’t beanbag, it’s a rough sport.
Great presidents rise above circumstance. Not Obama, at least not yet. At a news conference Tuesday marking the 100th day of his second and final term, the president seemed unwilling or unable to overcome stubborn GOP opposition.
“You seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave,” Obama told a reporter. “That’s their job.”
Obama needs a coach to look him in the eyes and say, “Mr. President, I’m not excusing the other team. They suck. But you need to beat them, sir. That’s your job, because if you can’t stop them, we lose. And there’s no excuse to losing to such a lousy-bleeping team.”
That’s how it works in the sports pages.