Bob Franken

King Features Column

      (As usual, the deal with the syndicators means this appears here a week after its newspaper release)

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       FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, JAN. 10, 2012
       If it seemed like an inane question at the end of Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate, that’s because it was. But, in the effort to inject some warm humor into the long conversation among cold, humorless people, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, who was participating as co-moderator, actually got a telling response in spite of himself by asking if each wasn’t at the debate, “What would you be doing on a Saturday night?”
       The candidates were quick to say they’d be watching sports on TV, answers calculated to demonstrate that they are just regular guys, and not the weirdly irregular ones they appear to be.
       The problem is that they took this puff ball and dropped it. As the sportscaster used to say, “LET’S GO TO THE TAPE!”
       NEWT GINGRICH: I’d be watching the college championship basketball game.
       (UNKNOWN): Football game.
       GINGRICH: I mean, football game.
       Thank you.
       RICK SANTORUM: I’d be doing the same thing with my family. We’d be huddled around, and we’d be watching the championship game.
       Sports fans everywhere would have seen how the disingenuously jocular candidates were genuinely un-jock-u-lar.
       Obviously, Newt shot still another airball.
       And Santorum, who claimed he’d be taking in the college football championship, also fumbled, since that game was to be played two full nights later.
       The fact is, it was NFL playoff games that were broadcast Saturday night. That’s professional football, of course, not the semi-pro college version. It might seem somewhat nit-picky, except that anyone who really would be tuned in knows the difference. Of course, they probably didn’t see the debate.

     Full disclosure: To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, I am guilty of loving football, to say nothing of baseball, basketball and soccer, and also guilty of looking for pretentious ways to cite H.L. Mencken.
       The point, though, is that the advisers have persuaded most politicians to embrace athletics and even to flex their prowess and fitness as a qualification for office. Give credit to Gingrich for not even trying, but the normal diet is images of presidents and wannabes running, chopping wood, playing basketball, hunting (for votes) and throwing out the first pitch.
       That last one can be really awkward. I’m not going to mention any names here, but some of these guys “throw like girls,” which is what we used to say before Title IX allowed us to find out that lots of women have better arms than many of us of the male persuasion. You don’t even want to know what disgusting things Mencken said about female athletes.
       The truth is, we probably don’t really want to know what these 2012 candidates have to say about the issues of the day. They get pretty wild as they make their pitches to the way-out extremes where the people they’re trying to impress hide behind their bunkers, surviving life in the Dark Ages. Contraception? Why is it even mentioned in 21st-century politics? Taking issue with Jon Huntsman serving as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China? That is desperation speaking. It makes one wonder if we’re wasting a lot of money trying to determine whether there is life in other parts of the universe. Obviously there is, and maybe some of these people are visitors from another planet.
       Of course, they are really just figments of their consultants’ imaginations, which means that just about everything they say has been market-researched. Even their ad-libs are vetted, which is probably a good thing for them, because when they are confronted with a question that is too dopey to predict, they stumble into the unscripted phoniness we witnessed Saturday night in New Hampshire, if we weren’t watching the NFL games instead. The political game is a sporting event of its own. It’s called dirty pool.
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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