Winning America's power game

The odds are already shorter than you might think on there being a President 'Tiger' Woods
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The Independent Online

First of all, my apologies to those seeking refuge in the sports pages from coverage of the American presidential election, but I do think the Gore v Bush fiasco needs addressing here, too. It seems, for instance, as if the margin of victory in Florida, whether for Al Gore or George W Bush, will come down to a relative handful of votes. A couple of days ago it was standing at 341, which interested me, because in the pages of the United States Professional Golfers' Association handbook, there are precisely 341 pro golfers listed as residents of the Sunshine State. Precisely-ish, anyway.

First of all, my apologies to those seeking refuge in the sports pages from coverage of the American presidential election, but I do think the Gore v Bush fiasco needs addressing here, too. It seems, for instance, as if the margin of victory in Florida, whether for Al Gore or George W Bush, will come down to a relative handful of votes. A couple of days ago it was standing at 341, which interested me, because in the pages of the United States Professional Golfers' Association handbook, there are precisely 341 pro golfers listed as residents of the Sunshine State. Precisely-ish, anyway.

Look at it that way and the identity of the next President of the United States rests in the strong hands - some favouring the Vardon grip, others the interlocking grip - of Florida's pro golfers, from Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to the humblest club assistant. This, of course, suggests that Bush will emerge victorious, for golfers are an innately conservative bunch.

Indeed, around the time of the Watergate crisis, some powerful Republicans promised Palmer all the back-up he needed to run for "high political office". He declined, reasoning quite rightly that he might have wound up in the White House for essentially the wrong reasons, such as an uncanny ability to hole long putts. On the other hand, most presidents play golf anyway, so why not have a decent one for a change? Dwight D Eisenhower was famously enthusiastic yet famously lousy, in fact the tree that repeatedly thwarted his progress up the 17th hole at the Augusta National is to this day known as the Eisenhower tree. His son-in-law, Richard Nixon, also enriched the golfing lexicon. If your ball ends up buried in long grass you are said, in certain circles, to have "a Nixon" - meaning a truly dreadful lie.

In the meantime, the odds are already shorter than you might think on there one day being a President Eldrick "Tiger" Woods. Consider it for a moment. It really is not such a daft idea. Tiger's African, Asian and native American antecedents would go down a storm with ethnic minorities, while his golfing stature would win over the reactionary country club contingent. He's bright, eloquent, tall, handsome, richer than Croesus, synonymous with winning, and imagine how that neon smile would play on television. Mark my words, if Tiger wants it, he's a shoo-in. Which is more than can be said of Gore and Bush, neither of whom can boast a decisive mandate from the people, whatever happens.

That is why sport is still growing as a factor in this election, as both candidates continue to campaign, if no longer for votes, than at least for empathy. Gore was photographed the other day playing touch-football with his daughters, while the Bush camp seize every opportunity to remind America of their man's all-consuming passion for baseball. His close buddy and political adviser, Doug Hannah, has even been quoted as saying, without the slightest trace of irony, that for George W "running for President is a resumé-enhancer for being commissioner of baseball".

Over here, that sort of talk might be used to damn candidates for elected office, but never in their favour. I mean, it seems pretty plausible that John Major saw 10 Downing Street as merely a useful staging-post on the road to presidency of the MCC, but he would hardly have admitted it. In America, by contrast, the suggestion that Bush prefers baseball to politics has actually boosted his popularity. After all, most people do.

At any rate, Bush - who bought into the Texas Rangers, and whose grandfather George Walker ran the New York Mets in the 1960s - can certainly not be accused of faking his credentials as a baseball fan to serve his political ends. If anything, the reverse is true. Hillary Clinton, however, was widely derided during her New York senate campaign for unveiling a previously undisclosed devotion to the New York Yankees. Her critics lost no time in pointing out that she had hitherto claimed to support the Chicago Cubs. And at a fund-raising dinner in Manhattan, George W Bush sardonically remarked: "There's really no place like New York, especially for baseball fans like me and Mrs Clinton".

Her opponent, Rick Lazio, also took gleeful advantage of Hillary's discomfort, emphasising that he was, and had always been, a Mets fan. But then the Mets played the Yankees in the World Series, the first "subway series" since 1956, and were trounced. For whatever self-serving reasons, Hillary was at least seen to be shouting for the winning team, and political experts concluded that this contributed significantly to her subsequent victory. It was further proof, as if proof were needed, that sport looms formidably large in American politics. Perhaps Gore and Bush should just slug it out on the driving range.

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