Since well-paid MSNBC pundits are allowed to use sports analogies when talking about presidential elections, I’ll use one of my own.
In late 2007 UCLA hired the energetic, endlessly optimistic Rick Neuheisel as head coach of its fledgling football team. Weeks later, UCLA took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times declaring, “The Football Dynasty in Los Angeles Is Officially Over,” with a picture of Neuheisel pointing across the page, ostensibly at USC — the school whose decade-long football dominance constituted said dynasty.
The 2008 and 2009 season passed with little, if any, evidence that anything would change between the two rivals. But then UCLA got the break it needed when the USC football program effectively self-destructed after the 2009 season. The NCAA charged USC with major violations and reprimanded them with a two-year postseason ban and a loss of 30 scholarships. More importantly, head coach Pete Carroll abandoned his sinking ship for a job in the NFL. With USC reeling, UCLA finally had a golden opportunity to end the dynasty and ascend to the top of the L.A. football hierarchy.
But UCLA fell flat again in 2010. They had the best chance they will ever get to move past USC, but they somehow blew it.
The lesson here is that, ultimately, you need more than a great opportunity to get to the top — you need talent. And UCLA has no talent.
This analogy may be harder to follow than Chris Matthews screeching, “It’s the bottom of the ninth but Obama’s got a dead arm!” But the UCLA-USC situation closely mirrors what I see happening with the 2012 presidential election.
There is no doubt that Obama is vulnerable. Part of this vulnerability is his own fault. He has failed to communicate what exactly the health care bill is, allowing crazies of all political stripes to mangle the bill into something that is scary and expensive and probably illegal in some way. His financial regulation bill was a no-win, with commies like me writing it off as toothless and conservatives decrying it as an attack on good, hardworking free marketers. He drove us further into the abyss in Afghanistan.
But the most important reason for his vulnerability is something that is out of his control. He inherited an ugly situation, and has spent the last two years doing the dirty work it takes to right the ship. He was more or less forced to spend his way out of the crisis, much to the dismay of an electorate that’s suddenly and strangely obsessed with deficit spending.
So it looks like the stage is set for a GOP takeover in 2012. The widespread enthusiasm that allowed Obama to compete in red states in 2008 has disappeared. The extreme right wing of the GOP has organized itself into the important-seeming Tea Party. Traditional conservatives have been turned off by the stimulus and other large federal initiatives. Independents, who often decide elections, have been largely disenchanted by the lack of, as TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska star Sarah Palin would say, “hopey-changey stuff.”
There is an unmistakable opportunity. But like UCLA and its undersized, unathletic skill players, the GOP does not have the talent to take the opportunity.
The party has two feasible candidates right now (excluding the Tim Pawlenty animatronic doll that’s supposedly running): former Massachusetts governor and current handsome gentleman Mitt Romney, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Or, in other words, two underwhelming corporate lackies who won’t say crazy things, want low taxes and hate unions. Romney wasn’t conservative enough to win the primary in 2008. That probably doesn’t bode well for his chances in 2012, when the GOP is about five times more right-leaning than it was three years ago. As for Daniels, there is a reason no one heard of him until a month ago. I’m all for darkhorse candidates, but he’s not even a darkhorse, he’s an invisible horse, or maybe even a nonexistent horse. Either way he hasn’t got a chance against the Big O.
What’s left after Romney and Daniels is a comic mish-mash of the senile, the unqualified and the insane. The motley crew of Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Mike Huckabee and TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska star Sarah Palin will be great from an entertainment standpoint. Just last week Gingrich implied that loving America made him cheat on his wife, Bachmann said that the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire and Huckabee felt the need to pick a fight with Natalie Portman. But ultimately having the likes of TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska star Sarah Palin involved in the primary will be detrimental to the GOP. Primaries always push the candidates toward the extremes of the political spectrum, but today’s GOP is a different animal. For Romney or Daniels or any other reasonable person to win the nomination, they’ll have to hurt their general election chances by mixing it up with right wing loons with illogical ideas who can’t even acknowledge that our president is a citizen.
Even though I’ve been unimpressed by Obama’s first two years in office, I prefer him over anyone the GOP is going to trot out. So while the President is certainly vulnerable in 2012, I can rest comfortably knowing that no Republicans pose a real threat. As a UCLA fan, I’ve seen this all before.
Tony Manfred is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be contacted at email@example.com. The Absurdity Exhibition appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.