Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Quote of the Day (Eugene McCarthy, on How Politicians Are Like Football Coaches)

“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”—U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005), quoted in Darcy G. Richardson, A Nation Divided: The 1968 Presidential Campaign (2002)

Wait, wait…you mean football’s not important?

Forget about challenging a powerful party apparatus stacked against him—that quote might be as good a reason as any why Senator McCarthy—by nearly all accounts, witty and brilliant—never became President. Political consultants talk about “the Nascar voter,” but if you ask me, football voters are far more numerous.

I hate to say it, but football was already beginning to replace baseball as America’s game in the Sixties when McCarthy said this. He just attuned to reading the signs, intent as he was on guiding legislation through the Senate, or reading the poetry of Robert Lowell.

The first two Super Bowls had already been played when McCarthy trudged through the snows of New Hampshire to challenge Lyndon Johnson in that state’s primary. Wilder football fans were wondering why the winning coach in those initial Super Bowls, Vince Lombardi, didn’t run for President himself.

Nothing that’s happened in the five decades since has fundamentally shaken Americans’ love affair with the game. Not steroids, not halftime wardrobe malfunctions, not traumatic concussion-related injuries, not Colin Kaepernick taking a note, not even Tom Brady monopolizing the Super Bowl.

St. Paul has a Winter Carnival. The Super Bowl provides a nationwide version of it, only on the gaudiest scale imaginable.

I’ve become convinced that the sport has become so important to so many, paradoxically enough, because it’s not important.

While everybody worries about something or other day to day—education, health, paying the bills, politicians who not only do stupid stuff but are shameless about it—football gives them a chance to join with other people on something that doesn’t matter because it’s utterly forgettable, with no real-world consequences for them.

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