By Geoff Earle
Sunday, July 31, 2005
"[President Bush] asked him about the hardest decision he had ever made -- and also how much he exercised."
-- From a July 21 New York Times story describing the president's interview with potential Supreme Court nominee Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III
President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court settles it: It's now Jocks vs. Geeks in American politics -- and, just like in high school, the geeks are getting creamed.
I can't say for sure why Bush settled on Roberts. Maybe it was because he graduated at the top of his class, boasted fancy Washington law firm credentials and passed the ideological test. But I had a sneaking suspicion from the moment I saw him up close: After long deliberations and an exhaustive background check, Bush -- an avid runner and cyclist -- picked the jock.
Abortion and judicial activism might be litmus tests for Bush's conservative supporters. But the president, dogged by knee injuries, had another agenda in mind. During his interview with Judge Harvie Wilkinson, the jock-in-chief chided the potential nominee for failing to do enough cross-training.
"He warned me of impending doom," Wilkinson recounted.
So, yes, the left may fret about Roberts's fleeting and disputed membership in the conservative Federalist Society and the right may praise his impeccable résumé. But my confidential sources (Dear Judge: No, not Karl Rove) tell me that what really wowed Bush was that Roberts captained his high school football team. The president even mentioned this with special admiration when he introduced Roberts to the nation -- almost like it compensated for that annoying went-to-Harvard thing.
Pundits thought Bush's defining criteria would be gender or ethnicity. He'd pick a woman (as Laura suggested) or a Hispanic to make history. Instead, Bush opted for a white guy who could throw a good spiral.
Nor is Bush's court pick an aberration. Just look at the people he's chosen to surround him in the White House. It's almost like he ignored all the usual factors, and decided to put together Washington's best touch football team.
Rumsfeld: former wrestling champion. Ridge: former Marine built like a rock. Rice: ice skater, football fanatic and Bush workout partner.
Republicans on the Hill, like the freshmen trying to prove their worth on the junior varsity squad, have taken Bush's cue. Majority Leader Bill Frist is an experienced marathon runner who takes his staff on workouts around the Mall. Virginia Sen. George Allen, the tall, swashbuckling, football-playing son of the legendary Redskins coach, has turned the sports analogy into a new art form. When Republicans won a Louisiana Senate seat last year, Allen said it was like "a double-reverse flea-flicker lateral." I guess "home run" is way passé.
The new class of Republican freshmen could take on any in history at pick-up basketball -- particularly if they put 6-foot-4 Sen. John Thune in at center. (The second sentence of Thune's Web biography makes clear why Bush recruited the South Dakotan to run: "His interest in politics was sparked at a young age after making five of six free throws during a freshman basketball game.") And that's without even getting to the GOP ringers: The Hall of Fame pitcher, NFL wide receiver, college football star and college coaching legend who won election to Congress in recent years.
It wasn't always this way. Bill Clinton -- a cheesy marching band geek if ever there was one -- was a two-term president who succeeded despite surrounding himself with the kind of dweebs who used to shut down the school library every night. Look whom he named to the high court: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Their dissenting opinions might offer brilliant ruminations on stare decisis , but physically speaking, neither will ever be confused with Arnold Schwarzenegger. (If justices get lockers, I'd be surprised if Breyer's hasn't been filled with shaving cream at least once.)
Neither would anyone on the Clinton bench. Robert Rubin: geek. Warren Christopher: geek. James Carville: pointy-headed alien-looking geek.
Of course, Bush himself has placed a few token non-jocks in his administration. But most didn't last long. I can't say for sure what Lawrence Lindsey's body mass index was, but I'm pretty sure it was many times the economic growth rate when Bush fired him in 2002. It is hard to say which statistic cost him his job. According to The Washington Post, "Bush blamed Lindsey for many of the administration's economic missteps . . . and even complained privately about his failure to exercise physically, aides said."
Lose a couple million jobs to China: No problem. Shirk your time on the treadmill: Time to fax that résumé to the Heritage Foundation.
(Granted, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney wouldn't win many fights on the playground. But every jock needs one or two geeks to do his homework.)
The really sad part about all this is that Bush, despite his vaunted three-mile run times, isn't such an exceptional athlete. His dad was a Yale pitching ace, butthe son couldn't even make the team. What the younger Bush does excel at -- besides running fast, both during workouts and campaigns -- is jock behavior: Acting tough, hanging out with cheerleaders and wearing cool letter jackets. (Bet you can't think of a commander in chief who's commissioned more windbreakers bearing the presidential seal.)
Could all of this have something to do with the Democrats' current losing streak? Absolutely.
The American people seem to regard the jocks with awe, just like when they were in high school. But who do the Democrats put out to respond to the latest GOP proposal? Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi. I'm sure the duo's collective cholesterol level is just fine. But jocks they are not.
Who is the one Democrat getting any traction these days? Sen. Harry Reid -- a former boxer.
What the Democrats need to get back in the winners' circle isn't another Brookings Institution seminar. They need a politician who doesn't throw like a girl (sorry, Mom).
So here's my suggestion (and it has nothing to do with abortion or Social Security): Pick Indiana's Evan Bayh to run for President. He's from a red state, and he's got good hair and a cute family. But he's got something the American people may soon rally around even more: a jump shot.
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Geoff Earle, a geek who co-captained his high school cross- country team, covers the Senate for The Hill newspaper.