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Two dying sports provide most lively political metaphors


Boxing and horse racing, baby. Boxing and horse racing.

Sure, these are sports long past their prime of widespread popularity. Yes, these are sports that should be on an endangered species list, not long for this world, on life support, choking on decades of increased social irrelevance, smothered by the emergence of newer, hipper, hotter, cooler, more telegenic sports that attract a bigger demographic.

But come election time, no sports provide the sheer quantity and reliable quality of political metaphors like boxing and horse racing.

Other sports are occasionally useful in providing metaphors to our political pundits and reporters and to the politicians themselves. One candidate might be down to his last strike. Another might need a last-second Hail Mary pass to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Or two candidates might find themselves in a shootout.

But boxing and horse racing are the bread and butter, meat and potatoes, salt and pepper, sugar and spice, frogs' tails and puppy dogs' tails of election-year metaphors (also called cliches, by the cynical among us).

A week ago, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (along with candidates running for all levels of public office throughout the nation) were coming down the homestretch. If you heard it once, you heard it five dozen times.

Sure, they were also entering the fourth quarter or the ninth inning. But we didn't hear or read about candidates entering the fourth quarter or ninth inning. Sometimes football and basketball and baseball can provide decent political metaphors. But not when describing the final frenzied phase of a campaign. For that, there is nothing quite like horse racing's homestretch.

A week ago, and for months leading up to the elections, experts and blowhards (often not mutually exclusive) predicted the presidential race was neck-and-neck, a classic horse-racing phrase that is simply far superior to other sports' much weaker attempts (a close game, at tiebreak, back-and-forth, seesaw, fender-to-fender, wheel-to-wheel) to describe too-close-to-call competition.

When the election was over, Obama, bloodied but unbowed, wasn't escorted to the winning locker room. He was escorted to the winner's circle. Romney, his political career likely over, won't be sent to the minors or to the practice squad or the development league. He'll be put out to pasture.

Although watching the tabulating of electoral and popular votes throughout election night might be most reminiscent of watching a scoreboard at the NBA All-Star Game, ultimately boxing metaphors explained that Obama emerged with a majority decision, and it was the president himself, in the wee small hours not long after Romney conceded, who called it a long and grim and bruising and exhausting fight (certainly not a thrilling extra-inning or overtime game).

After the first debate, it was Romney who scored a surprise knockdown. It was Romney who came out punching, who drew first blood. He didn't hit an ace or a home run (or even a stand-up double). He didn't score a goal or pedal faster. Neither did he run for a first down or a touchdown, nor did he sink a 3-point shot or a 40-foot putt or blast a slap shot into the goal. And he didn't hit a header into the net.

No, politics, especially at the highest-stakes level, is barbaric, not for the squeamish and, besides horse racing, the sport it most resembles is boxing.

Obama didn't come back from the first debate knockdown with a three-run rally or with a series of fast-break points. And he certainly didn't rally his supporters with a double lutz or a triple axel. He came back by (with apologies to Muhammad Ali) floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. He came back by landing solid punches in the key middle rounds.

And when the election was over, Romney didn't look and sound like he lost a polo match or a yachting race. He looked and sounded a little punchy, like he lost a fight.

Late on election night, Obama celebrated not as if he had won the World Series or Super Bowl or Stanley Cup or World Cup of politics, but he celebrated having won the heavyweight championship of electoral politics.

Boxing and horse racing, baby. Their relevance in the sports world continues to decrease, but their usefulness in providing political metaphors and cliches is alive and robust.

Robert Rubino can be reached at robert.rubino@pressdemocrat.com.