Public Comment

The View from the Gutter

By Marvin Chachere
Thursday May 29, 2008 - 10:08:00 AM

Presidential campaign reporting wallows in the language of competitive sports, especially racing: who’s ahead, who’s losing ground, who dropped out. Political analysts, like Las Vegas odds makers, deploy their assessment of strengths and weakness in attempts to predict the outcome—“If the election were held today, so-and-so would be the winner.” The normal perspective of analysts and reporters is from outside and above the fray. What does the current presidential race look like from below, from the gutter? 

We are in the semi-finals of the race to be the 44th president and sadly far less is reported about the remaining three candidates’ abilities to solve a multitude of serious problems than about who’s ahead, why and how he or she can regain the lead.  

All professional observers agree that each is burdened with a uniquely American handicap. Who will best surmount their disadvantage: Can Clinton close the gender gap? Can Obama escape racial prejudice? Can McCain overcome age discrimination?  

These are the wrong questions. They are too remote and consequently too vague. Yet, ordinary citizens cannot know what goes on inside each camp. What you’re left with is a view from the gutter. 

Remember, it’s like a race, a sporting event, a game, and just as in any game (except playground pick-ups) players cannot be trusted. All players know the rules but you still need referees and umpires to penalize when the rules are violated. Players cheat and the best players are often the best cheaters. 

Mark Bowden whose resume is long and distinguished writes with unmatched insight that in football, cheating “…is as traditional as the coin toss” (“Sacks, Lies and Videotape,” New York Times, May 18). Since winning is “the only thing,” he concludes, then playing by the rules is “by definition a lesser priority.” 

If you watched the NBA semi-final championship game 2 between Detroit and Boston last week you’d have seen cheating—a slow motion re-play depicting a player pulling on the jersey of a sprinting opponent … so briefly the referees didn’t catch it. 

Therefore, the view from the gutter of the presidential semifinals must focus on cheating. Can Hillary supporters smear Obama with enough tar-covered bitterness to make up for gender disability? Can Obama’s strategists succeed in making Hillary pay for mistakes and mis-statements? Will McCain prove his sprightliness by doing one-arm push-ups as Jack Palance did at the Oscars a few years back? 

“Cheating,” wrote Bowden, whose books range from Black Hawk Down to The Best Game Ever, “will always be part of a game when victory comes with substantial rewards.” Is there any reward more substantial than the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office? 


Marvin Chachere is a San Pablo