"Just Win, Baby": Sporting insights into
the character of George W. Bush
October 30, 2004
By Dennis Hans
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:
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
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
Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'"