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"Just Win, Baby": Sporting insights into the character of George W. Bush

October 30, 2004
By Dennis Hans

In an effort to bridge the gap between those who regard President George W. Bush as a "liar" and those who regard him as a mere "exaggerator," I would like to suggest a term that perhaps we all can agree on: "cheater."

Bush is one of the greatest cheaters America has known. His effectiveness stems in large part from his image as a plain-spoken straight shooter. As every con artist knows, it's much easier to trick people when you have their trust.

Bush retains the trust of about half of the population, and probably 60 percent of hardcore sports fans, given that they are disproportionately white, male and straight - three demographics that tilt Republican.

For those sports fans who either support Bush or are undecided, and believe he has made good on his Y2K promise to "restore honor and integrity to the White House," allow me to propose some sporting analogies that may help you to see Bush in a different light.

In the game of politics, Bush has proven himself to be a winner time and again. But while he presents himself as a winner in the mold of Joe Torre or Joe Gibbs - that is, play hard but play fair - he's actually cut from the same cloth as Billy Martin and Al Davis. Their approach, like Bush's, is best summarized thusly: "It's not cheating if you don't get caught."

Over the course of a long, turbulent and successful career, Davis, the maverick owner of the Oakland Raiders, has communicated to his players and coaches in a myriad of subtle and overt ways his basic philosophy: "Just win, baby."

There's much to admire in Davis- he challenges authority (i.e., the NFL commissioner), welcomes outcasts and eccentrics who don't fit in on corporate-style teams, and trusts his instincts every bit as much as Bush trusts his.

But Davis was and always will be a street fighter who sees rules as impediments to be stretched or broken. It was the Raider offensive lines of the 1960s who perfected the art of disguising illegal holding. Raider defenders often crossed the line between aggressive-but-clean hitting to vicious cheapshots that intimidated opposing players and placed them at greater risk of serious injury. One opposition receiver wound up paralyzed.

The late Billy Martin had a slew of worthy qualities as a manager. He knew how to size up his team and devise a philosophy that matched the players' talents. He managed slugging teams to titles, but he was at his best with quick and scrappy teams, where he could apply his knowledge of and instincts for the running game and other wily-but-perfectly-legal strategies to discombobulate the opposition. In Oakland they called it "Billy Ball," and fans loved it.

Unfortunately, that team didn't have enough natural pitching talent to be a title contender. Rather than accept that weakness, the dark side of Billy did something about it: He had his pitching coach, Art Fowler, teach his pitchers how to cheat, thereby transforming Oakland's unproven hurlers into one of the best staffs in baseball.

Fowler was a fine teacher of the non-cheating nuances of pitching. But one reason for his long tenure with Billy is that he, like Billy, had no moral qualms about teaching a pitcher how to deface or lubricate the ball to make it do tricks - and how to do it in such a way that the umpire - the upholder of the game's integrity - wouldn't notice.

You might say that Fowler was Martin's Karl Rove.

Bush may be an ethical man in his personal life, and he may tell himself that by not committing adultery he has abided by his Y2K pledge to restore honor and integrity to the White House. But in his far-more-important public life, he cheats as easily as he breathes.

One can see it in his ads and stump speeches, where he wrenches a Kerry word or phrase out of context - "nuisance," "global test" - so he can pretend that Kerry's takes a ridiculous position on a key matter of national security. Or in his refusal to specifically condemn the vile Swift Boat ads while his campaign enlists surrogates named Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush to go on TV and lend credence to the slanders. That cynical strategy is evidence that a culture of cheating pervades the campaign - a culture that would not exist if the campaign staff believed the president truly valued "honor and integrity."

You can see it in a series of pre-war pronouncements where Bush grossly overstated CIA judgments on Iraqi WMD that were themselves gross overstatements of the agency's own intelligence reports. Those assertions helped to build public support for an unnecessary war.

So sports fans, if you're able to figure out what Bush's actual positions are, and you generally agree, by all means give him your vote. But be forewarned, you're not voting for a straight shooter like Joe Torre or Joe Gibbs. You're voting for a cheater, one who conned you into backing an unprovoked war that has already killed thousands of young Iraqis and Americans - most of them sports fans just like you.

 
Dennis Hans (Hans_d@mail.firn.edu) is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg; he's also a basketball shooting instructor. Prior to the Iraq war, he penned the prescient essays "Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'" and "The Disinformation Age".

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