The Democratic Party and the Cleveland Cavaliers have exactly the same problem: they are BOTH a one-man show. When that one man – that gigantic, once in a generation shining star, leader, and all-around good-guy is separated from the team, it collapses. The Democrats had Barack Obama and the Cleveland Cavaliers had LeBron James.
Team Obama came along in 2007 and helped mask the fact that for a long time the Democratic Party has had a weak playbook, a weak bench and star players that can’t win on the road. Barack Obama carried the whole party to electoral success and he looked great doing it. All of those facts reflect what LeBron James did for the Cleveland Cavaliers when he joined their team straight out of high school in 2003. The culture shifted immediately and expectations were elevated.
The 2008 Blue Wave that we all want to see a sequel to was no fluke. When the upstarts, role players and perennial retreads of the Democratic Party ran hard with Obama in lock-step with his vision, they crushed the Republicans. When they went weak-kneed and limp-dicked in the 2010 mid-terms and ran away from him over the passage of the Affordable Care Act, they got their sorry asses blown off the court. And they deserved it as defeat was the proper wage for their political cowardice. When you pass big and important legislation like that, you stand on it proudly, sell it loudly, and run on it hard. Instead, a great many of them hemmed and hawed and projected as much back-bone as those big, tall yellow things fluttering in the wind outside of used car lots. At bottom, they were weak and could only win with Obama taking all the shots.
Everybody in Cleveland knows that without LeBron, they immediately return to being a weak team in a city nobody wants to come to. They will again be ineffective and no real threat to do anything beyond showing up to play real teams that are contending for divisional crowns, conference titles and NBA championships. All of those half-assed ball players who got to ride on big floats in jubilant parades, hoist championship trophies and wear championship rings know deep down that they owe it all to the will and the skill of one guy- LeBron James.
When LeBron announced that he was leaving Cleveland for the second time (this time for the bright lights and blue skies of Southern California) there was no ritualistic jersey burning from a misguided, delusional and self-important fan-base. This time, there was no bitter, unhinged and caustic “Open Letter to LeBron” published by Cavaliers owner and jack-ass Dan Gilbert. After thoroughly embarrassing themselves back in 2010, it looks like Cavaliers nation decided to just be thankful for the gift that LBJ gave them in 2016 and build for the future.
In the real world of electoral politics and policy consequences, the stakes are (obviously) a great deal higher. Accordingly, the Democrats cannot afford to burn Barack Obama’s jersey even one time if it wants to compete for championships anytime soon- not with black turn-out cratering by a full 7 percentage points in 2016. But because the Democrats and Democratic sympathizers are who they are, I’ll be damned if the freak-out over the generational loss of the Supreme Court isn’t being pinned on Barack Obama in some corners. This is happening despite the fact that he was the ONE person in America that could least afford to fly a Kamikaze mission in the Spring of 2016. It is amazing how people who should know better lose all perspective under duress. There is no value in hysterically blaming the star-player on your team when you lose a game you would have won but for the role players deciding not to even show up to the arena. (It would behoove us to recall that 47% of eligible voters didn’t bother to go to the polls.)
Dr. Jason Johnson is a respected political scholar and an MSNBC pundit that I generally like. I admit having a soft spot for Jason because we have a lot in common- personally and politically. So I was supremely insulted and choked on my coffee when he fired off this foolishness: “Not getting Merrick Garland on The Supreme Court was the greatest act of political cowardice that I’ve ever seen and history will NOT judge him kindly over this!”
He said it on a panel being run by Joy Reid and I was shocked that she didn’t pile-drive his ass right there on the set like Nature Boy Ric Flair. But no, the panel discussion just wrapped up quietly without violent attack about 15 seconds later.
There is no way to put this delicately: if our best and brightest voices out there are thinking and saying stupid shit like this we are fucked. And I mean fucked into delirium. I understand that Jason is not a lawyer by training- he is an academic. But he’s still got to know better than to unleash some ill-informed, ill-conceived, emotionally unhinged bullshit like this into the echo-chamber. There was NO legal president for a recess appointment of a Supreme Court Justice under these circumstances. To the contrary, there are a number of opinions that specifically indicate the impropriety of doing so. Barack Obama would not just have damaged his own presidency with a move like that, he would have damaged the presidency itself.
We cannot be prisoners of the moment and down-shift our expectations of how responsible leaders behave because we have watched Donald Trump carry out a date-rape of our American institutions since he won the nomination.
Because he has acted a goddamned fool does not mean that Barack Obama should have done so- particularly when NOBODY would have anticipated that Hillary Clinton would lose the election. So before anybody follows Jason down the rabbit hole of emotive analysis, keep in mind that Barack Obama’s decision to push the Affordable Care Act through in his first term was the greatest act of political courage in fifty years. He put his entire presidency on the line and re-framed the narrative around the American healthcare system forever. That is why all that “Repeal and Replace” talk has evaporated and the Republicans have been relegated to sneaky, weasely, bait-and-switch tactics to undercut it. The legal framework STILL remains- almost 2 years into Trump’s presidency. A coward could never impact this nation with such deliberation.
And don’t ever forget that Barack Obama put his presidency and legacy on the line in ordering the raid that killed America’s greatest terrorist-tormentor Osama Bin Laden.
That move could have failed and backfired on him badly as similar moves have on other presidents. But he saw a chance to take out our enemy and he did it. So my parting message to Jason and to all those inclined to go along with that losing mentality: disagree with President Obama if that is where your head is at. Reject and rebuke him if that is where your heart is at. But don’t you EVER in your life call Barack Obama a coward in any context. If you go down that road you are going to wind up with those Cavaliers fans who know that they’ve got nothing but losses coming their way for the foreseeable future. Barack Obama has done his job. It is time for the rest of us to do ours. Jason (and Joy), be better.