The Agenda

Bryan Curtis on the Parallels Between Nixon and Obama … as Sports Fans

Bryan Curtis of Grantland has a short essay on the semiotics of presidential sports fandom:

If sports talk helped soothe old wounds, it gave something else to Nixon and Obama: It gave them the language of Joe Sixpack. David Greenberg, author of Nixon’s Shadow, says that during the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, Nixon announced he’d be home watching college football — you know, like a real American. Yet a year later, when Nixon visited protesters before dawn at the Lincoln Memorial, college football was one of the only things he could think to bring up. Obama doesn’t share Nixon’s awkwardness with voters, but he’s sometimes accused of talking in an academic drone. No one says that when he’s talking about Derrick Rose.

But I think Nixon and Obama got something even bigger out of being sports freaks. It allowed them to go one-on-one with their most deadly caricatures. Before his 1968 campaign, Nixon was cast as an inhuman pile of ambition forever molting into a “new Nixon.” Obama, way more slanderously, has been called a Kenyan-born, madrassa-schooled non-American. It’s no wonder the POTUSes never shut up about sports. Nixon talked football and got to be part of the silent majority. When Obama talks sports, he shows America his birth certificate.

This is of particular interest to me as a sports non-fan, or rather as someone who enjoys professional sports primarily through chopped and screwed fan-made highlight reels. 

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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