Jewish World Review May 27, 2011 / 23 Iyar, 5771
For 2012, it's Obama vs. the smoothies
By John Kass
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | President Barack Obama moves as smoothly through a news cycle as Muhammad Ali once moved through a prize ring.
What separates them from so many pretenders is their silkiness and their pace.
So it's easy to see what worries Republicans, as GOP contenders fall away, one by one, rather than challenge Obama's re-election. It is style that makes prizefights, and it is style that makes political campaigns.
And the Republican Party establishment is now left to contemplate the fact that they're about to put their smoothies up against a guy who'll dance them to death.
It's John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" vs. Fred Astaire in, well, anything. The president is Fred, if Fred is the guy who got Osama bin Laden.
That's a prescription for Obama winning re-election over some Republican smoothie.
He's prettier and more elusive, a trout finning behind a rock. Lunge after him and you'll miss.
And this week Obama was exceedingly cool, so loved in Ireland that he might as well sign his name O'Bama, and then on to dinner with the queen. All that will make campaign commercials, with Obama hitting all the food groups.
Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney, America's foremost political mannequin, tries to be smooth, with the hair, with the clothes, with his "Massachusetts Miracle." Even Romney's laugh is smooth, as if it were squeezed from a bottle.
And former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a smoothie too. He's no Romney, to be sure, which is a plus. Pawlenty has some promise. He's got those blue-collar roots showing rather ostentatiously through all that establishment Republican rhetoric.
Pawlenty is always ready with hilarious Spam jokes, but a smoothie nevertheless.
Of course, I know there are many of you who'll tell me that it's the substance of political arguments, the weight of them, and the issues, that are more important than style. And I agree.
But I do remember years ago, telling an editor that great ideas would drive a campaign, particularly ideas about the size of government, the federal leviathan crowding the freedom of the individual and so on.
He shook his head, sighed, lit another smoke and told me to have another drink. Then he explained that what drives presidential politics isn't grand ideas, but rather how much money a voter has in his or her bank account, and what's in the family's grocery cart.
Of course, he was right. And I bit my lip.
But style is critically important too. If it weren't important, then an unremarkable back-bencher from the Illinois state Senate with Tony Rezko on his back wouldn't have become the world's political rock star in a few short years.
Style makes political campaigns. Just like style makes prizefights.
That's how the old-time fight guys explained how matchups sold tickets.
It was taught to me while covering the local prizefights, held on many weekends in a dilapidated banquet hall on the West Side of Chicago.
If they made a perfume of the venue, it would be bottled mildew and smoke. The carpet was red. There was a bar in the lobby. And everywhere you looked there were plaster statues of cupids filling the fountains without using their hands.
It was there — writing for the Italian-American sports paper, the Red, White & Green — that I learned that styles make fights.
For example, a short left-hook artist with skin like paper is matched against a jabber, a taller dancer with a good right hand. The dancer keeps him away, jabbing. By the sixth round, the slugger is bright with blood, but that hook keeps the crowd interested and hungry.
Two smooth counterpunchers often make a boring fight, with each waiting for the other to throw. The people in the crowd lose interest. Their minds begin to drift. They know what will happen.
The fighter with the best feet wins.
And who has the best feet?
They belong to that skinny kid from Chicago.
Pawlenty is interesting, and I could be wrong, but I just don't see him doing it. As for Romney, he's yesterday's news. Obama will absolutely tear him up.
Mike Huckabee didn't want to fight. He'd rather do TV. And Sarah Palin? She was once perceived as dangerous, which is why she was savaged by the political left. But the survival show and that Mama Grizzly act have ruined her for serious work. She's showbiz now.
The Republican who would have had a legitimate chance was Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
He wasn't about being smooth. Short and bald, he had less charisma than that can of creamed corn in the back of your pantry. But he had something. He had weight.
Daniels was about the deficit and the debt and what he called "the red menace." And this resonated with conservatives and independents.
Unfortunately, Daniels has withdrawn, pulling the plug on the campaign over the weekend. His wife didn't want what was coming to her through the media. And it was coming.
The couple had separated, divorced, she married another man, but they reconciled and got back together, became a family again, and raised their daughters together.
Who can blame her?
And that leaves the smoothies. But they're not nearly smooth enough.
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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Comments by clicking here.
© 2011, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.