PAULINA STREET JOURNAL
Working for Barack
February 18, 2010
I was reading the recent
profile of Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, when it hit me: I'm
never going to be offered a job with the Obama administration. Not that I
want a job, you understand; I'd just like to be offered a job.
It's not going to happen, though. It's the basketball thing.
The example of Arne Duncan makes this apparent. Does he know education? He
ran the Chicago public schools, so I'm sure he does. Plus he went to Harvard, so
we know he's smart.
But let's be honest. The reason he's in the cabinet is he's six-foot-five, played pro
basketball in Australia, and competed in pickup games with Barack Obama for
twenty years on the south side of Chicago. Me? No to all the above. So a
I know a couple people who were offered jobs in the Obama administration.
One was a teacher at the high school my older
a former law partner of Obama's. I heard he'd been offered a job in the
Department of Education; no doubt he'd gotten a call from Arne. I asked him
about it after my daughter's graduation. Chief of staff or undersecretary of
something I didn't catch all the details. He was
thinking about it. He was qualified, no question. Smart guy, articulate, not
tall but wiry, probably good quickness. I'm figuring point guard.
There's the problem, see. That's why nobody is going to offer me a job in the
Obama administration. My basketball skills are
well, no need to go into detail. But they put me at a disadvantage in
certain life situations. Let's say,
hypothetically, it's 25 years ago and I'm dating some tall, gorgeous lawyer
with buff upper arms. I go to her house to meet the family. Her brother
decides he needs to size me up. He invites me outside for some hoops. I'll
put it this way: it's going to be a short night.
Basketball holds great importance in the Obama administration. "Duncan likes
talking about how pickup basketball reveals character, an article of cultic
faith in Obama's inner circle," the New Yorker article tells us. Barack is
said to be a decent player and considering he's president of the
United States and has his finger on the button that can turn the earth into a glob of molten glass, I'm
sure he's pretty much fantastic. Many
of his top advisers in addition to Duncan are also quite good.
This unquestionably has an effect on
interpersonal dynamics at the White House. Let's suppose you're in
the Oval Office discussing Middle East policy with Barack, Hillary, and
Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador. According to
Susan Rice was a point guard at National Cathedral school in D.C. and played
at Oxford. You're really getting into it with Susan Rice. Is she awed by
your command of geopolitics? No. She's thinking: "I'm 5-foot-3 and stealing the
ball from this putz would be like taking candy from a baby." You see what
I'm saying. The job thing would never work.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not without athletic ability. I can
hold my own in miniature golf. You may scoff, but I assure you the game provides
character-building opportunities that are the equal of
Last summer, for example, I was up north with the family on vacation. We
took the kids out for a round of miniature golf you know, that place on
Route 31, with the waterfall. It was me, my wife, and our younger two. Lest
you get the idea these kids are pushovers, let me tell you they're varsity
athletes. Not, admittedly, in miniature golf. But they have excellent hand-eye coordination.
My son Andrew jumped out to an early lead. I, on the other hand, was scattered. I triple bogeyed
the fourth hole. After the first nine Andrew was ahead four strokes. Many would have given up. Not me. I reached within myself, shut out distractions,
became comfortable in my own skin. Also, being older and wiser, I didn't
address the ball as though I were swinging a weed whacker. I began to catch
up. On the 13th I got a hole in one. Andrew began to sweat. By the 18th I
down two. It was one of those tricky holes where the cup is in the caldera of
a little volcano. I calculated. I aimed. I tapped the ball in a
nuanced and scientific manner. The ball rolled eighteen feet and up the
slope, dead center. In? No. I'd applied a couple millinewtons too much force. Michael Jordan used to have that problem
playing miniature golf. The ball sailed over the top and came to rest two feet
away. Did I choke? Please. A precisely calibrated stroke, up and in par.
Andrew was unnerved. He double bogeyed; we finished in a tie. You didn't hear
much about it because of Tom Watson at the British Open that same weekend. But it was sweet.
That's the kind of steadiness and resolve I'd bring to the Obama
White House. Picture it: Obama, me, and Rahm. (Rahm
was my congressman, did I tell you that? I met him at the church social
really, I did. A regular guy, if you can get past the FU thing.) We're discussing pipelines in Kazakhstan or something, and Barack says, "I gotta clear my head. Let's grab the putters. Who cares if you made par on
that volcano? I'm owning you, homeboy."
I'd let him. You don't want the president of the United States sitting down
with Vladimir Putin thinking, I just got my butt kicked in miniature golf.
But it's not going to happen. It's basketball
or nothing. Fine, Barack. You think you can get past the Tea Party crowd
with your jump shot for four years, have at it. However, if you want
somebody who can keep his head when the game is on the line, you know who to
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