Is The President an Athlete? And is it Racist to Point Out That He Spends a Lot of Time Showing Off That He's an Athlete, Especially When Unemployment is Really, Really High?


So the latest faux-flap in the post-racial age many of us hoped that the election of Barack Obama would usher in is, naturally, about race.

Guest-hosting on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Norah O'Donnell suggested to the assembled throng of rag-tag plagiarists and John Demjanjuk enthusiasts that former Speaker Newt Gingrich's jab at the president was coded racism. Speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (which, it should be pointed out, sure sounds like code for something), Gingrich pronounced that

Shooting three-point shots may be clever, but it doesn't put anybody back to work….What we need is a President, not an athlete. We need somebody who actually focuses on getting people back to work.

Now Gingrich is nobody's idea of an athlete and while it might be easy to write this off as water-boy envy at its most obvious, it's also a great line, especially given Obama's annoyingly public displays of jump shots (see above, which comes from the White House's official site!). O'Donnell insisted that the proper reading of Gingrich's comment was that the Georgia Peach was channeling Jimmy the Greek (not a stereotype!) and dredging up racist stereotypes of African Americans as born to play basketball.

"I'm not sure what he means by this particular soundbite and I think it's open to some criticism because it suggests that the President is an athlete and some people may suggest, you  know, because all black people are good athletes. I mean that's what it sort of sounds like to me… Well what's this suggestion about him playing basketball? That he's not doing his job?"

This is thin gruel and the other guests on Morning Joe said so. You'd think that a political reporter with any short-term memory would remember, at the very least, the fairly constant attacks on George W. Bush as golfing while Rome burned and/or taking naps and/or working a 30 hour week and being on vacation all the time. And if not that, then maybe attacks on Bill Clinton for golfing too much (including at whites- and men-only clubs), or of George H.W. Bush golfing all the time, or of Ronald Reagan sleeping too much and/or chopping wood, or of Jimmy Carter falling down while jogging during a fun run. The tradition of accusing the president of not working hard enough, except at his golf game, is an old and storied motif that dates back at least to Eisenhower. And, we should point out, Obama does get photographed frequently while playing golf as well as b-ball.

The question for O'Donnell? Where do you go to hide when Mike Barnicle, of all textual poachers, gets off a jerk-store-level quip at your expense? Sed Barnicle:

You can easily disprove that President Obama is an athlete by showing his first pitch…You can show that clip. He is not an athlete.

Transcripts, clips, and more at Media Research Center site.

Last week, Matt Welch posted this clip and ran through the various ways in which Obama revealed himself to be something less than an athlete.