Alex Massie

The Sporting White House

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I take my hat off to Katty Kay. Writing at the Daily Beast she comes up with a novel criticism of the Obama administration: it's too fond of  sports metaphors. Seriously. This, apparently, is "insidiously sexist" and consequently unfair to female political reporters trying to understand how the White House is approaching any given matter. I'd have thought that this injustice was scarcely limited to women, since presumably male reporters with no interest in baseball or basketball would be similarly disadvantaged. But perhaps not.

Still, this shouldn't surprise anyone: after all it is the media that loves to cover politics as a "horse race" (reducing politics to the level of a sporting event irritates pols - or so they like to pretend) and in any case sport is an ideal frame for explaining all manner of things. That's why so many sporting terms are part of everyday conversation. ("Sticky wicket", "stumped", "struck out", "behind the eight ball", "own goal", "on the ropes" etc etc).

Kay objects to Robert Gibbs telling reporters that:

"Bottom of the fifth [inning], the sausage race is [at] the beginning of the next inning, so stay tuned, and the starting pitcher is in there, still throwing nice curveballs and [he's] still got a lot of heat on the fastball," was how the new White House press secretary described the progress of the economic stimulus bill at a recent briefing, presumably quite seriously expecting most of the correspondents in the room to understand what on earth he was saying. Most of the men that is.

Gibbs was laying a smokescreen, creating the impression of busyness and command. Fancy that: he's a press secretary. But it should be no surprise that the starting pitcher (ie, Obama) should still be pitching strong through the fifth inning. That's the very least one ought to be able to expect from your ace. In other words, Gibbs was making an exceedingly modest claim and advising reporters that the new President was meeting the bare minimum requirements of his new job. If Obama had been knocked out of the game in the third or fourth inning then the administration would be losing. As it is, in the bottom of the fifth the President is still in the game and doing fine. As, of course, he should be.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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