Some months ago, my column compared GOP presidential wannabes with famous athletes. The comparison that received the most attention was Sarah Palin/LeBron James (glitzy superstars tarnished by quitting). But the presidential field looked different then. Indeed, of the politicians in the piece, only Mitt Romney (Pat Riley) and Newt Gingrich (Buddy Ryan) remain in the race. It’s time for Part II, bringing in the new cast of contenders.
Rick Perry/Ralph Sampson. A pair of Texas-size busts. Sampson performed admirably at University of Virginia, thus becoming the # 1 pick in the NBA draft, but bombed in the NBA. Perry’s career has followed a similar trajectory — successful governor, hence a frontrunner in the GOP race, followed by implosion once he joined the big time. In fairness, both faced severe handicaps: Sampson couldn’t run (after suffering a knee injury), Perry can’t talk (just because).
Herman Cain/Moses Malone: In 1983, Moses famously predicted that the Philadelphia 76ers would sweep their way to the championship: “Four, Four, Four,” he proclaimed, though some thought him inarticulate and mocked it as “Fo, Fo, Fo.” Today, Cain hopes to sweep his way to the presidency via “Nine, Nine, Nine,” though his plan, too, has been widely mocked.
Michelle Bachmann/Isiah Thomas. Diminutive, scrappy as all get-out, but erratic. Bachmann’s pugnacious work in Congress made her seem a plausible presidential candidate, just as Thomas’s pugnacious play with the Detroit Pistons made him seem like a credible general manager. But both proved in over their heads and took to scapegoating others. Thomas apparently attempted suicide, only to claim that the person who checked in to the hospital following an overdose was actually his daughter. Bachmann claimed that HPV vaccinations cause retardation, then insisted that the error wasn’t her own but that of some other woman.
Ron Paul/Casey Stengel: Stengel, then the aged manager of the 1962 Mets, looked around and asked, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” Paul, the aged GOP candidate, asks the same thing in GOP debates. Stengel was famous for his meandering nonsense, which came to be known as Stengelese. Paul does a credible impersonation. Here’s a typical Paul exegesis, in response to a question about separation of church and state: “We shouldn’t expect us to try to change morality. You can’t teach people how to be moral. But the Constitution addresses this by saying — literally, it says no theocracy. But it doesn’t talk about church and state. The most important thing is the First Amendment.”