The game of softball has two incarnations. Most of the country plays the 12″ variety that features a fairly hard ball that the player needs a leather glove in order to catch it.
But around these parts, when one says “Let’s play softball,” we are talking about a great big 16″ “mushball” that you don’t need a mitt to catch it and is easy to hit. Much more conducive to playing spinoff games like “Beer Ball” and other variations, the game is marked by the painlessness involved in catching the ball due to its lumpen shape and forgiving texture.
Hence, the term “softball question” which apparently has its origins in questions asked certain Machine politicians in Chicago in the 1970’s. The exact date and origin of the term are unknown but anecdotally, I recall the great Chicago columnist Mike Royko using the term to describe the witlessness of Chicago beat reporters at City Hall who were a most incurious lot when it came to Machine corruption. This may have been unfair of Royko due to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s notorious hatred of reporters and the vengeance he would take against any who crossed him.
But the reference is to the 16″ variety which, unlike the more popular 12″ game is played with a true “soft ball” and is seen mostly in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs and ex-urbs.
No doubt Barack Obama is very familiar with the 16″ variety of the game. And after last night, he is now intimately familiar with the term “softball question:”
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today in Indiana, you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis without action that we would be unable to reverse.
Can you talk about what you know or what you’re hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?
Batter up! Play ball!
Announcer: Here’s Obama at the plate. So far the president is 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a weak pop-up to the second baseman. He’s also been credited with a sacrifice when he lifted a medium deep fly ball to left field that advanced catcher Hillary Clinton to third.
Here’s the first pitch … it’s an underhand delivery from Jen Loven of the Associated Press who couldn’t decide whether to rush to the plate and kiss the batter or simply grovel at his feet. Obama takes a mighty swing…and misses!
Obama: That’s why the figure that we initially came up with of approximately $800 billion was put forward. That wasn’t just some random number that I plucked out of — out of a hat. That was Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal economists that I spoke to who indicated that, given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that it’s happening worldwide, it’s important for us to have a bill of sufficient size and scope that we can save or create 4 million jobs.
I doubt too many conservative economists recommended a bill that contained such a lopsided ratio of spending to tax cuts. He is either being disingenuous or lying. I have seen plenty of conservative economists say we need a stimulus bill but of “sufficient size and scope?” That’s one on me and it would be helpful if the President could give us the names of those economists. Not just to check his story but also to scream at any fools who would have recommended such idiocy.
But back to the game…
Announcer: Obama steps out of the box for a moment. He adjusts his immaculate uniform - evidently his cup is slightly out of place. He daintily spits into his government-funded, Taiwanese built spitoon that he insists on bringing with him to the plate (life must be hell for Barak ever since his wife forced him to quit smoking and switch to chewing tobacco). Time is called as Obama insists that the spitoon be emptied and out comes a stimulus funded worker, the Designated Spit Chucker, to take care of the problem.
Obama steps back in. The rookie looks nervous as his spikes paw at the dirt. He squeezes the bat and awaits the pitch from Karen Boeing of Reuters. Here it comes …oooooh a brushback pitch that narrowly misses Obama’s enormous ear:
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to shift gears to foreign policy. What is your strategy for engaging Iran? And when will you start to implement it? Will your timetable be affected at all by the Iranian elections? And are you getting any indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States?
Obama gives us all a lesson in how to say absolutely nothing in 1000 words or less.
And my expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face diplomatic overtures, that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.
There’s been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s important that, even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we’re clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing.
So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there’s the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress.
As long as Obama is willing to grovel at the feet of the Iranian government by “apologizing” for all the naughty things we’ve done in Iran without them having to apologize for their support of Hezbullah and Hamas, then I have no doubt that a relationship of respect and “progress” (whatever that means) can be achieved.
Just tell our diplomats to be careful what they say. Iran has already committed one act of war in taking and holding our personnel as hostages. No doubt they would probably find it efficacious to have a repeat performance.
Let’s pick up the game where we left off…
Announcer: Obama is getting up slowly and dusting himself off after the high heat put him on his ear. He glares at the pitcher but restrains his inclination to go after her with a bat. Obama appears to be disgusted that his uniform is dirty and may call for his valet to brush him off. I believe - yes - he is asking the ump for permission but Nester is having none of it. He points to the box and orders Obama to resume.
Obama looks determined now. His steely gaze is concentrated on Chip Reid of NBC as he goes into his windup. Here’s the pitch…it’s an eephus pitch that Obama slams deep to left. Back she goes…back…back…IT’S OUTA HERE!
Thank you, Mr. President. You have often said that bipartisanship is extraordinarily important, overall and in this stimulus package, but now, when we ask your advisers about the lack of bipartisanship so far — zero votes in the House, three in the Senate — they say, “Well, it’s not the number of votes that matters; it’s the number of jobs that will be created.”
Is that a sign that you are moving away — your White House is moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship?
And what went wrong? Did you underestimate how hard it would be to change the way Washington works?
Not only does Reid set the ball on a tee for the president, he actually gets him started toward trashing his opposition while being able to appear “bi-partisan:”
As I said, the one concern I’ve got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what’s been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing.
Now, if that’s their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we’re probably not going to make much progress, because I don’t think that’s economically sound and I don’t think what — that’s what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.
There are others who recognize that we’ve got to do a significant recovery package, but they’re concerned about the mix of what’s in there. And if they’re sincere about it, then I’m happy to have conversations about this tax cut versus that — that tax cut or this infrastructure project versus that infrastructure project.
But what I’ve — what I’ve been concerned about is some of the language that’s been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth.
First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then, you know, I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now.
There may be some lonely back bencher (Ron Paul) who may want to “sit back and do nothing” about the economic crisis but to try and say that this opinion is even a minority opinion in the GOP is a lie and he knows it. And this is even worse:
Number two is that, although there are some programs in there that I think are good policy, some of them aren’t job-creators. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that those programs should be out of this particular recovery package and we can deal with them later.
But when they start characterizing this as pork, without acknowledging that there are no earmarks in this package — something, again, that was pretty rare over the last eight years — then you get a feeling that maybe we’re playing politics instead of actually trying to solve problems for the American people.
I’m sorry but $4.2 billion for “neighborhood stabilization activities” - much if which would go to ACORN and other partisan Democratic organizations smacks of a Hugo Chavez type of political program where organizing people at the neighborhood level, getting them dependent on those government programs earmarked for the purpose, and then when election day rolls around, actually paying ACORN and their sister organizations to get the grateful citizens to the polls would cement the Democratic majority in many states where big cities make up a sizable segment of the vote.
Here are 49 other “destimulating facts” about the bill (many of which I agree with Obama should be included but many others we can clearly do without).
It’s not that we expected the press to challenge Obama and ask him tough questions. There’s no opportunity for follow-up and the president calls on the reporters like a teacher calling on students in class. The modern presidential press conference has become a drama starring the President of the United States and featuring recognizable talking heads from the various networks, bit players from the dead tree media, and a cast of hundreds of extras. It is a political speech disguised as a press conference and the transparent willingness of the press to play their designated roll was nauseating.
No questions about Gitmo? What about Obama’s keeping some Bush era policies on rendition and the Terrorist Surveillance Program? Poor Glenn Greenwald has his panties in a twist because Obama won’t let the terrorists free in downtown Washington with an apology for inconveniencing their jihad by incarcerating them for a few years.
The fact is, there was not one question that discomfited him, not one challenge to a decision he has made. No questions about his cabinet picks who have backed out or his breaking his pledge not to put lobbyists in positions where they would have jurisdiction over the areas where they lobbied, or any questions on breaking his promise to wait 5 days before signing a bill into law in order to get feedback from his adoring public.
Announcer: Obama is circling the bases in triumph, women are swooning in the stands, men are weeping, and reporters are running next to him trying to get his autograph. Our hero-savior-president has triumphed and his enemies have been temporarily silenced.
Ain’t softball a grand game?