The Reckoning

Move Over A-Rod; Make Room for O-Rod

Obama, A-Rod and Jeter

O-Rod and A-Rod (top right) in happier times, alongside Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter (left) during an event honoring the 2009 World Series in the East Room of the White House.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Hell, they say, hath no fury like a woman scorned.

The woman in question here is the American electorate – and in particular, its liberal, Venusian side. With the final lap of his re-election campaign about to commence, Barack Obama must be wondering: Where is the love?

I was there, in Denver, the night Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech in 2008 to the Democratic National Convention. Beside me was a lifelong Republican, Bill Turcotte, scion of a Navy family and a friend since we were both 16 years old. Bill was deeply reluctant to be swayed by the Democratic candidate’s rhetorical flourishes, but he was deeply shaken by what George W. Bush had done in America’s name during his tenure.

But the flags and the tears of joy and the unmistakable passion of the young crowd that packed Denver’s Mile High Stadium moved Bill, too. “I wish I could believe he could do what he’s promising,” Bill told me (though he’ll be mortified to see it in print). “I just get the feeling he doesn’t know what he’s getting into. He’s going to get murdered in Washington.”   

Bill was dead right. Obama got his clock cleaned in Washington during his first term, health reforms or not. And now, trapped between the expectations raised by his 2008 superstar persona and the glum realities of a man hemmed in by a balance sheet recession and a cynical but effective political opponents, Obama is striking out.

As my readers will know, I’m not one to pepper my copy with sports metaphors. But today’s an exception.

A-Rod – Alex Rodriguez, the Yankee slugger who is baseball’s highest paid player, was benched last week after going 3-25 in the American League playoffs, largely because he lost the ability to hit right handed pitching. Sportswriters once assumed A-Rod would be remembered as the best all-around baseball player of all time. He arrived in New York in 2004 with all the fanfare of a messiah. Now the Yankees are trying to figure out whether it would be better to cashier him, in spite of the $114 million they still owe him, then watch him stumble through another four seasons.

To a not insignificant number of voters who supported Obama in 2008, this is precisely how they view the president’s re-election bid.

So, is Obama about to suffer the same fate as A-Rod? Come to think of it, I can’t think of a single right handed pitch he’s got a good piece of since at least the midterm election. Is Obama turning into O-Rod?

The man I must trust at this point with electoral prognostications, Nate Silver of The New York Times, keeps telling Democrats to calm down. Gallup’s neck-and-neck polls, he says soothingly, have a tendency to be wrong at big moments. And, as Al Gore will tell you, you don’t win a presidential election by winning the popular vote: the fact that Obama continues to lead state-wide polls in places like Iowa and Ohio makes it tough for Romney to put together the electoral votes he’ll need to win.

But “scorn” has a great deal to do with the fact that the race is as close as it is. Whether it’s the centrist small business owner who is exasperated by the lack of economic growth or the crusading liberal who can’t forgive the fact that Guantanamo remains opened, Obama has not delivered.

The results can be very ugly.

And so I return, for a moment, to baseball. I was there in Seattle’s Safeco Field in April 2001 the first time Rodriguez returned to the city that nurtured his career after leaving for the Texas Rangers and a record-setting $262 million contract. The children of Seattle screamed “shame” at the top of their lungs that night, and the crowd rained $1 bills down upon on “Pay-Rod,” the star who spurned them – a man who, just a few weeks earlier, would been have trusted to pick up their children at school by just about everyone in town.

A-Rod has had a decent career since, leaving Texas for the Yankees in 2004, and performing decently, though not extraordinarily, until his collapse in this year’s playoffs. But you won’t find a lot of A-Rod fans in the Bronx. The Daily News’ annual “Keep ‘Em or Dump ‘Em” poll set records for participation this year, largely due to the 72 percent who logged on to vote against A-Rod. He never met expectations; he never came near them.

In that context, it’s worth considering the whole quotation from the Congreve, who penned that famous line about “a woman scorned” for his play The Mourning Bride.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,”

Unlike A-Rod, Obama is not being sidelined by age, nor did he take performance enhancing drugs. His rhetorical gifts may be as sharp as that day in 2008 when he told his supporters: “Enough,” to the politics of the past. You understand that, in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same, old politics with the same, old players and expect a different result.”

The polls keep telling us that women are not Obama’s problem, and he still may pull this out. But Congreve’s words remain relevant. Among all too many who supported the bright-eyed young man in 2008 based on his promises, “the same old politics” is precisely what they feel they got in return. As with A-Rod, love has turned to hatred.