American Culture

Starting Hillary as your quarterback is a loser's game

hcqb.gifThough it wouldn’t mean anything to Hillary Clinton, a football metaphor has been used to describe her campaign. Blogger Kirk Caraway, for example, writes: “Hillary has the best campaign organization, and knows that the nomination is hers as long as she doesn’t make a mistake. But just like a football team playing prevent defense, sometimes it prevents you from winning.”

While the term “prevent defense” isn’t used much anymore in pro football, the strategy itself is still used. When the clock is winding down and a team finds itself with a slim lead, the coach is liable to go all conservative on us. Since everyone knows that the losing team needs to pass to catch up, he plays his team’s defensive backs deep.

The offense is thus able to complete short passes in front of them. But it’s almost impossible to connect on a scoring strike. Still, as every fan can tell you, a succession of short passes against it takes the team down the road to defeat as sure as a long pass.

Hillary Clinton’s conservative strategy leaves her wide open to attacks from those on the left who question her opposition to our presence in Iraq. But to her and her staff, that’s just giving up short passes and they’re unlikely to yield enough points, or votes, to lose.

Were she to call for complete withdrawal, though, the charge that she’s soft on defense might stick. The fear on the part of Clinton’s people is that, the equivalent of a long pass, it might yield enough votes against her to prevent her from being nominated.

Assuming she is, though, the Democrats will find that running Hillary is like playing a prevent defense from the opening whistle. First, there’s the infamous October 20 Zogby poll that shows 50% of the poll’s respondents would never vote for Hillary. (In the process turning the old cliché “Never say never” on its head until it cries “Always say never.”)

Second, Hillary is only leading Giuliani by three or four points. How, you ask, can a Republican spurned by the base of much of his party find himself that close to the leading representative of the stronger team, the Democrats?

Because, even though the hard right characterizes her as the epitome of liberalism, Hillary is a Democrat in name only, equally as unpopular with the base of her party as Giuliani is with his.

The Democrats sell themselves short by using the prevent defense when the Republicans aren’t, for one reason or another, fielding their best team. They handicap themselves by opting for a candidate capable of providing only a slim margin of victory.

With Mike Huckabee closing the Iowa gap on Romney (sorry, can’t bear to call a grown man “Mitt”), the prevent defense, as is its wont, might backfire on the Democrats in the election. Settling for winning by a whisker could result in the Democrats playing the most morose game of Monday Morning Quarterback ever.

11 replies »

  1. Interesting observations, Russ. One question – do you see any Dem who can take Hillary down before she gets the nomination? And do you see any other Dem electable in the general election? And who do the Repubs have that might appear and push Giuliani and Romney (or Huckabee) aside? Looks like it ain’t gonna be Fred Thompson…

  2. Russ,

    You certainly won’t find me as a Hillary defender, but don’t you think it’s more than a bit sexist for you to open by claiming she wouldn’t understand a football metaphor?

    I know this may seem shocking, but there ARE women who actually do enjoy watching the pigskin get passed every now and again and could probably explain the game better than some men.

    I generally agree with your comments about Clinton, but that was weak sauce. You can do better.

  3. Martin: Not that Russ needs me to stick up for him, but let me put it back to you this way. Hillary is a known quantity. She’s been a very public person since the early 90s. Have you ever heard her talk about sports or give any indication in any way that she knows about sports?

  4. Sam,

    Let me put this back to you. Does her not talking about sports automatically mean she doesn’t know about them?

    I never talk about sports, for instance. Does that mean I can’t? 🙂

  5. Putting it back to me is of no value because I made no assumptions on the subject, nor did I use said assumptions to upbraid somebody else. I’m just observating, is all.

  6. Russ:

    This is an interesting metaphor, but I think it’s like most metaphors in that, ultimately, it’s a far-from-perfect fit.

    Hilary is actually playing several football games. There’s the nomination football game, and the election football game. There’s also the football game to get swing voters, which are the ones that matter the most.

    Unlike most football games, however, giving up a scoring pass in the first one (the primary) counts against you in the second one (the election). And it counts most with the swing voters.

    US politics has become a game of “gotcha.” Everyone with a real shot is playing defense.

    Come to think of it, Hilary may not be playing a prevent defense so much as she’s playing a “run-out-the-clock” offense. Don’t pass. Don’t fumble. Run out the clock on the nomination.

  7. Sam,

    It’s still a very gross assumption to make, and very unlike Russ–whose work is normally exceedingly nuanced and well-thought. Hillary’s got gaffes aplenty to be discussed, and I just don’t see a need to take a shot like that.

    I know many women who can out-jock me in the sports knowledge department any day of the week, so I never assume gender = interests in the modern age.

  8. You’re right, Martin. I knew I shouldn’t have said that.

    Hillary’s spoken about baseball. Remember how she tried to be a Cubs and Yankees fan at the same time? (Like Giuliani rooting for the Red Sox after the Yankees folded.)

    JSO — True, I can’t let go of a metaphor sometimes and stretch it to fit my needs.

  9. Hillary doesn’t ever talk about trading commodities, but she knows how to trade. She managed to start out with a thousand dollars, make twelve winning trades in a row, and increase her stake more than a hundred fold. She’s so good that they even allowed her to use less than the margin required for her initial trade. I wonder why she quit. At the rate she was winning, she would ahve owned all of the money on the entire planet.

    I admire her trading acumen, and she’s mot a pro as she learned how to trade as a litttle girl,sitting at her father’s lap listening to him read rhe WSJ.

    It took me 10 years to learn how to trade, and she got it down as a kid with only a few lessons.

    I tip my hat to her.


  10. Russ,

    I’m glad you recognize that. But it says something sad about our culture that we take our leaders’ acumen about sports figures that seriously. I certainly didn’t need Giuliani switching sides like that to convince me he was a douchebag, but apparently many did.