Saturday, January 09, 2010


I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that frustrates me most about this Administration. Then it dawned on me: these guys can’t seem to figure out how to beat the blitz.

Football fans know a lot about blitzing and how devastating a maneuver it can be. A blitz is the most aggressive type of maneuver implemented by a defense. There are a number of defensive players whose normal job is to patrol a region (a zone), or cover an opponent’s running back or receiver man-to-man. But when you blitz, you send one or more of those defenders on a bee-line toward the quarterback, and if they get there when the quarterback has the ball, their job is to wreak havoc, throw the quarterback to the ground, and try to dislodge the ball if possible. When a blitz works, it makes your defense look even more macho than your offense and makes the other team’s offense look like a bunch of weenies. Successful blitzes result in sacks, fumbles, interceptions … and puts opposing quarterbacks in desperate need of their mothers.

So, you might ask, if a blitz can be so devastating, why doesn’t a defense blitz on every play? The answer is that there are time tested ways to defeat blitzes. One example is to call a screen pass. On a screen, an offense lets the other team think that it can simply rear back and tee off at its quarterback. Offensive players intentionally do a half-ass job of blocking so the defensive players can move closer to the quarterback. But just before they get to smash him to the ground, he dumps the ball off to a running back. And what does the running back have in front of him? A wall of blockers and not very many defensive players who are capable of making the tackle, as so many of the potential tacklers have been suckered behind him toward the quarterback.

A screen pass is a trick play. In essence, a quarterback has turned himself into a decoy, and once he gives up the ball to the true star of the play – the running back – there’s often smooth sailing ahead … maybe even a score.

When Barack Obama took over the job of POTUS, the hopes in this quadrant of cyberspace was that he would move us beyond the need for football metaphors. He was to be a post-partisan leader, remember? The kind who could appeal to blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, Americans and foreigners – and help them forge working compromises that benefit us all. Obama was a multi-racial figure whom everyone could claim as one of their own. He was an international figure, the child of an African father and the product of four years at an Asian schoolhouse. Whether the topic involves domestic or foreign policy, he prided himself in being able to appreciate the positions of all the players in a public debate. Do you recall how, whoever you are, Bill Clinton could “feel your pain”? Well Barack Obama could understand your arguments and incorporate them into his own thinking. Surely, if anyone could end the epidemic polarization that had infected Washington, D.C., this was the man.

Well, folks, it didn’t exactly work like that, now did it?

If anything, the polarization in D.C. has gotten worse. Just look at the votes on the health care bill. In the Senate, the 60 Democrats all voted with Barack, whereas all 40 Republicans voted against him. The vote in the House wasn’t quite so partisan, but close. In the end, the Administration received the vote of only a single Republican Representative. That’s right. Barack Obama, the born compromiser, the man who signaled in so many ways his desire to work across the aisle, in the signature legislation of his first year as POTUS could garner the support of only a single Republican members of Congress out of 217. If that isn’t bi-partisan futility, what is?

When I look at the way the GOP has responded to Barack Obama, I can only analogize it to a blitz. Perhaps it didn’t appear that way at first, for the GOP realized at some level that it had to allow Barack the support needed to jump start the flow of credit, and thereby keep the economy afloat. But once it became clear that the threat of another depression was averted, the GOP could unleash the dogs. “Whatever it is, I’m against it!” – the old Groucho Marx line – became the de facto code of the Republican Party. That principle dominated the voting patterns of GOP Congressmen, not to mention the rhetoric of right-wing commentators on talk radio and cable news. Even when Barack tried to deliver an Olympic games for the United States (specifically, for the city of Chicago), Republicans blasted him for it and rejoiced when he failed.

If this were football, such a strategy wouldn’t simply be called “blitzing.” It would be called ALL-OUT blitzing. You could just see the defenders in the huddle saying “Let’s all of us meet at the QB. If he’s still standing when the play’s over, we haven’t done our jobs.”

So, what do you think. Have the Republicans done their jobs? Have they wreaked havoc in the Democratic backfield? Is Barack Obama still standing?

From what I can see, the answer to the first question is most assuredly “no,” if their job was to support the interests of the United States public, but quite possibly “yes,” if their job was to wreak havoc with the Democratic Party. Lord knows that the number of Democratic incumbents who’ve announced their retirement is growing into a significant number. Public opinion polls don’t register that the Republican Party is especially popular, but the Democrats aren’t fairing well either. And at times like this, voters might simply want to “turn the bums out,” a result that invariably helps the minority party.

But what about that third question: is Barack Obama still standing? You’d have to say yes, he is, but he’s a tad wobbly. The blitz has been getting to him, throwing him off his game – just not enough to result in one of those bone-jarring sacks that puts the quarterback on the sideline trying to figure out how many fingers he has. In situations like this, it always seems to be just a matter of time before the quarterback will get nailed or give up (bailing out before he can complete his passes, thereby allowing himself to fight another day) … unless, of course, his coach can figure out a way to defeat the blitz. In this case, though, the job of determining how to beat the blitz falls squarely on Barack’s head. Remember, he’s the quarterback AND the coach. That’s what makes his job so difficult and unenviable when he’s facing an aggressive opposition.

So, does anyone have any foolproof ideas? I’m all ears. And I’m sure Barack is too. He seems to have tried a lot of things in the health care debate – town meetings, speeches, you name it. In the end, the only thing that worked was to pay off Senators with laughable, almost-corrupt handouts for individual states. We will have ourselves a Health Care bill, albeit a tepid one, but it’s sure to leave an awful taste in everyone’s mouth, and it also is a warning of times ahead. Move the clock forward a year when the Democrats lose a few seats in the Senate and Barack no longer has his 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. What then? How much money is he going to need to buy off the dissenters? Billions? Trillions? Quintillions? Even Paul Krugman won’t recommend that we borrow a quintillion dollars, and I’m beginning to think Barack is going to need that much to get things done in 2011.

So what can Barack do to defeat this all out-blitz? For starters, he might want to find a running back and an offensive line and trust in them to do their jobs. Football, you see, is the ultimate team sport. Even a quarterback is powerless if he tries to excel without support. Similarly, when you have an entire political party gunning for you, you need visible men and women capable of taking them on.

Barack might think that he can succeed as the only popular figure in the Administration, the only orator who is capable of selling his ideas. Sorry, but it’s time for him to find some lieutenants in both the Executive and Legislative branches who are almost as articulate as he is and who are willing to call out the Republican opposition for what it is: a reckless attempt to risk this nation’s long-term health simply in order to score some temporary political gains. Who are these articulate spokesmen? Give me the name of one powerful orator who has had Barack Obama’s back … other than Barack Obama? It’s time that Barack identify a few names and send them out over the airwaves to combat the blowhards on the right. To use a metaphor from another sport, if only one fighter is throwing punches, even if his punches are hardly landing, he’ll get the judge’s decision.

Secondly, Barack might think about some bold countermoves. To defeat the blitz, you have to take chances. Screen passes, for example, may be things of beauty when they work, but they can also be disastrous. If a quarterback isn’t careful, that little dump off pass to a running back can be intercepted by a defensive player who gets lost in the crowd of guys rushing the quarterback … and when you see a screen pass intercepted, there’s usually nothing ahead of the interceptor but the end zone.

No matter, it’s time to take risks. It might even be time, once the Health Care Reform Bill passes, of considering the so-called “nuclear option.” That’s jargon for the elimination of the procedure that enables 41 Senators to effectively veto any legislation by filibuster. The Founding Fathers didn’t provide for that procedure. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave that 41 Senators can repeatedly thwart the will of 59 Senators and the clear majority of the American public. Jefferson, after all, was a democrat (meant with a little “d”) who believed that periodic, significant social changes were healthy for a functioning democracy. Unfortunately, far from providing for the possibility of such changes when they are needed, the present filibuster rules lend themselves to legislative paralysis, thereby destroying the one branch of the Government that is supposed to be most responsive to the will of the people.

Why are we putting up with this garbage? And why couldn’t an orator as gifted as Barack Obama, armed with a team of able lieutenants, convince the American public that it is time that the majority ruled in Congress, rather than a cabal of Groucho Marx-like dissenters?

Finally, as I have suggested before, Barack might want to find an issue or two and tackle them with palpable passion. We’ve seen his Health Care Reform strategy of letting Congress set the agenda and the tone. Perhaps that was the right strategy for that particular fight; perhaps not. But once that bill is signed into law, it will be a new day. That’s when we need to see that Barack has a heart as capacious as his mind. That’s when we need to see that Barack viscerally gives a damn about a particular approach to tackling an important social problem. Whether it’s climate change, high unemployment, or the West Bank settlements, Barack must tackle the issue with the ferocity of a gifted blitzer. You see, the best offensive players may look cool as cucumbers, but fires burn in them too. We need time to see that same fire from Barack. Well, it’s almost time. First, we need to make sure that the Health Care Reform bill gets enough votes from the weenies in Congress.

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