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President Tin Cup

25 August 2011

1:59 PM

25 August 2011

1:59 PM

It’s August so you could be forgiven for thinking Thomas Friedman’s latest column offering pony-in-the-sky advice to Barack Obama is a parody or, perhaps, written by some Friedman-bot while the great moustache takes a week off from soliciting couthy advice from Intel executives and Cairo cab-drivers. Anyway, you see, apparently…

He’s Tiger Woods — a natural who’s lost his swing. He has so many different swing thoughts in his head, so many people whispering in his ear about what the polls say and how he needs to position himself to get re-elected, that he has lost all his natural instincts for the game. He needs to get back to basics. 

It’s crazy what’s happening in America today: We’re having an economic crisis and the politicians are having an election — and there is almost no overlap between the two. The president needs to bring them together. But that can only happen if he stops playing not to lose and goes for broke himself. Our problems are not insoluble. We need a Grand Bargain — where each side gives something on spending, taxes and new investments — and we’re on our way out of this.

Actually in one sense Friedman is closer to being right than he knows: even if Tiger Woods regains some of his long-lost form he’ll never be the same, all-conquering Woods of old. He has lost, probably forever, his ability to inspire terror. His opponents may respect his ability but they no loger fear him in the manner they once did. As with Woods, so with Obama. Time and stubborn events have knocked the sheen off his Presidency and while he still demands respect he’s not the force he once was. That’s why, 14 months from the election, he has a whiff of the lame-duck about him.

As for Friedman’s hopes for a Grand Bargain, well, yes, it’s a nice idea but, unfortunately, one untethered to reality. A bargain demands two parties; it’s not clear there’s even one, far less the pair required to make this kind of compromise. Perhaps campaigning for a great compromise constitutes "going for broke" in the present climate but Vote for Me, I’m the Reasonable Guy! is not the kind of thing that seems likely to rally enthusiasm for an election campaign.

According to Friedman, however, Obama needs to change the way he plays golf or politics:

I’m glad the president went on vacation because one of the most useful things he could do right now is play golf — a lot of golf — but not that friendly foursome thing with his aides that he usually does. No, real golf: Match play, head to head, with real money on the line. Match-play golf is a great teacher. As any good golfer will tell you, the first rule of match play is this: Never play not to lose. Do not wait and hope for your opponent to make a mistake. Always play the course, always play to win and always assume your opponent will do well — will make that long putt — so you have to do better.

Actually, match-play golf is about playing your opponent, not the course. There are times when an aggressive approach is necessary and times when prudence should prevail. When your opponent drives into the water, take an iron off the tee. Do what’s necessary to beat your opponents’ score, not what’s required to shoot the lowest score you could. Make your opponent play brilliantly to beat you and never lose a hole to par. In other words, Friedman gets his golf analogy completely wrong.

Undaunted, Friedman finishes his round with a quadruple-bogey:

Meanwhile, Mr. President, on a rainy day, rent the movie “Tin Cup.” There is a great scene where Dr. Molly Griswold is trying to help Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, the golf pro, rediscover his swing — and himself. She finally tells him: “Roy … don’t try to be cool or smooth or whatever; just be honest and take a risk. And you know what, whatever happens, if you act from the heart, you can’t make a mistake.”

Jesus! Has he ever watched the film? You will remember that Roy McAvoy, played by Kevin Costner, comes to the final hole of the US Open needing bogey to win. He faces a long second shot over water  – a shot he’s dumped into the water three times that week – but, rather than lay up and play sensibly he decides to have another go at being a hero. Naturally he finds the water. As he does with his second and third and fourth attempts at making this miracle shot. By now the tournament – for which read re-election – has long gone. Eventually, of course, he makes it over the water and holes the shot to boot and, because this is Hollywood, everyone feels great and warm and fuzzy.

In "real-life" of course he’s "acted from the heart" and thrown away a certain victory. And this is supposed to be good advice? Sheesh.

[Via Isaac Chotiner]

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