woody_zimmerman_118_2007Over the past few weeks the Mainstream Media have obsessed on the so-called “referee crisis” in the NFL. This was a situation created by the league’s owners, when they locked out the regular referees over a contract dispute and decided to hire “replacement” refs to officiate in the league’s exhibition season. The idea was to show the contracted-officials that the league could do without them – thus putting pressure on them to accept the owners’ contract terms. The replacement-ref arrangement spilled over into the regular season.

At this writing, I’m not familiar with the contract terms the owners offered, but those terms are not the main point here. The point is that instead of pressuring the regular refs, the replacement-ploy blew up. So many controversies arose over questionable calls – including a botched call which actually decided one of the first games of the new season, between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks – that the NFL owners were forced to settle with the regular referees and put them back on the field before any further damage was done to the integrity of their sport and, derivatively, to fans’ confidence.

The lesson which should be taken away from this episode is this: you can dress someone up in the clothing of an NFL official; you can give him a whistle, put him on the field and call him a referee; and you can let him officiate in games; but you cannot guarantee that he will furnish officiating of the high quality demanded by the sport played at this level. It took only a few games for this lesson to register on the owners, who moved quickly to control the damage and put the locked-out refs back on the field.

This episode isn’t really very important, one way or the other. I enjoy football, but not enough to spend a lot of time thinking or writing about its labor disputes. So why do I cite it?

The answer is that the referee-situation is a pretty good metaphor for what has been going on with our national political leadership for the past four years. In 2008 we elected an individual with much personal charm and charisma, who “looked” presidential. He had no experience that could reasonably prepare him to be president of the country, but Democrats heralded him as a “messianic” figure who could solve all of the country’s – indeed, the world’s – problems, lashed themselves to the mast of his ship, and created a political hurricane that swept him triumphantly into office.

Perfectly sensible people, who should have known better, voted for “the man from nowhere” on his hip persona, his Hope-shtick, and his soaring promises of unspecified “change.” Near-orgasmic reporters called him the smartest man in the country – perhaps the smartest man who ever lived. One reporter (who shall mercifully remain nameless) said he was almost at the level of God. It was, in the words of Bernard Goldberg’s book-title, “A Slobbering Love Affair” between the media and Barack Hussein Obama.

At the start of his political career, Mr. Obama spent several years as a “community organizer” in a Chicago neighborhood. In 1996 he was elected Illinois state senator, where he voted “present” 129 times over his 8-year career, but did little else of note. (His reputation as a state-senate “reformer” is a complete myth.) His United States Senate term began with his election in 2004, but he spent most of the next four years running for the presidency, which he won in 2008.

Mr. Obama stepped into the most awesome executive position in the world with no executive experience to speak of. He had never run so much as a lemonade stand, but Americans took a chance on him. Like the NFL replacement refs, Mr. Obama’s tenure has run the gamut from spotty to incompetent. For the refs, this is impossible to hide on TV from millions of fans. The same holds true for the presidency, except that the stakes are not just the outcome of a football game.

What doomed the replacement refs was TV Instant Replay. It is now possible for every fan watching a game on TV to see what actually happened on a given play. When a call is clearly wrong, fans raise hell, and the league feels the heat. Owners, coaches, and players also get upset if it happens too often.

The presidency is like this, too, but even more so. Once it was possible to hide damaging events from the public because the media had limited capability and could easily be controlled. But the string on that tactic ran out with Richard Nixon. He tried to keep the lid on the Watergate break-in, but the attempt failed. His presidency crashed – not over the burglary of the Democrats’ Watergate offices, but over the attempted cover-up. Even in 1973, reporting technology overwhelmed presidential attempts at secrecy. That technology has increased many-fold in the 40 intervening years. Now, every presidential action (or inaction) is endlessly replayed, rehashed, sliced, diced and squeezed to the last drop by the uncontrollable media.

President Barack Obama came into office promising a veritable Garden of Eden and Peaceable Kingdom with respect to the economy and foreign affairs. His promises to cut the deficit “in half” and reduce unemployment to 5% are replayed over and over again by adversarial media – exactly like those botched calls by the replacement football refs. Now his Charm Initiative with the Muslim world is collapsing – not because he wasn’t obsequious enough, but because there are bad people out there who mean us harm. To counter the damaging effect of the endless replays of his many botched calls, the president’s apologists have taken to claiming that no one could have done better. Indeed, a veteran of the office, President Bill Clinton, made that exact claim on Mr. Obama’s behalf in his speech to the Democrats’ convention.

The media said Mr. Clinton’s apologia furnished Mr. Obama with a post-convention “bump” in the polls. Maybe it has. But I got to thinking about the replacement refs along those same lines. Suppose an apologist or a lobby had sprung to the defense of the replacements by claiming that no one else could have done better, and asking for more time so they could improve. Would the NFL’s fans have listened to those pleas? (Show of hands on YES!) I’m sure my readers will agree that there was no possible way.

People who seem quite willing to give a bumbling, inexperienced president a pass for his incompetent performance on the field – both domestically and in foreign affairs – evidently will not tolerate the same traits in a football referee. We all have our limits. Americans draw the line at quality officiating for pro football. You just can’t compromise on some things.

We live in strange times.