By Bob Gaydos
A few lingering questions to ponder before the end of the year:
WHO’S TO BLAME? Is there anything sadder and more frustrating for a football fan than seeing an old, humorless, rigid coach berating a 22-year-old player on the football field, on national TV, immediately following that player’s failure to kick an out-of-bounds punt with 14 second left in the game, that failure leading to a winning touchdown for the other team on the last play of the game?
Actually yes. It’s that same old, humorless, rigid coach stating at a press conference after the game that he took “full responsibility” for the botched punt and in the next breath saying the kicker (who was reportedly in tears in the locker room) didn’t do what he was told.
Pretty big bus you tossed the kid under, Tom Coughlin. Way to demonstrate mature leadership. Way to make other young football players want to become a New York Giant. Gee, maybe some day I can miss a tackle and have Coughlin chew me out on Fox or CBS so that everyone knows he wasn‘t the one who missed the tackle. That’s not a particularly effective approach with your own kids and it’s highly unlikely to motivate professional athletes.
Yeah, Tom Coughlin has to go as Giants coach because for all his emphasis on discipline and stability, his teams have been among the most undisciplined and unstable on the football field over the past few years -- even when they won the Super Bowl. But it’s more than that. He has gone from being a cranky-but-talented coach to a cranky, old man who seems to spend most of the game shaking his head on the sidelines and looking like he has indigestion. Those are generally signs it’s time get out and let someone who can demonstrate leadership, not annoyance, take over.
If there are lessons to be learned from a crushing defeat -- and there always are -- in this case it might be that teams win and lose as a unit, not as individuals, and that, as a rule, coaching and disciplining and blame-placing should be done in private, not in public. You can make occasional exceptions for spoiled professionals who think the rules don’t apply to them (Hello T.O., Ochowhatever and Mr. Moss), but never for amateurs and youth league athletes. (Coaches of said athletes, take note.) And if you say you take “full responsibility” as a coach, make sure you damn well mean it.
WHICH DUCK IS LAME? The midterm election, which delivered the House of Representatives back to the Republicans, was supposedly a referendum on how poorly Barack Obama had performed in his first two years as president. After all, he had only pushed through a record stimulus bill to stabilize a free-falling economy, managed passage of health care reform (something presidents had been trying to do for decades) and engineered banking reform, simplified college tuition loans and put protections in place for credit card users. He even got a bill passed on child nutrition. Oh, and he started pulling American troops out of Iraq.
This record was considered a disastrous failure, mostly by Tea Party members, who look on Obama as a Socialist and would apparently prefer that there be no government at all, and ultra-liberals, who thought Obama should bludgeon Republicans into saying yes once in awhile even if their DNA prevented them from doing so. But the man is nothing if not persistent and consistent.
Having been chastised and humbled by his “defeat” at the polls in November, the president has since signed a bill extending Bush era tax cuts for all Americans and extending unemployment benefits for millions. The bill does include tax cuts for the wealthiest, which will increase the exploding national deficit (which Republicans also kept saying was a very, very bad thing), but it also includes so many other benefits for the middle class and businesses that ultra-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has praised Obama for outsmarting the Republicans, calling it the bill that ensures Obama’s re-election.
But there’s more. For all his liberal supporters, Obama somehow got Congress to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law, which will allow gays to serve openly in the military, and gained approval of an updated nuclear arms treaty with Russia, despite efforts by some Republicans to hold it hostage if Congress approved DADT. Also considered possible is approval of a health bill for 9/11 responders, a bill Senate Republicans inexplicably rejected several times in their desire to punish the president.
I have not been immune from criticizing Obama for not occasionally slapping around just-say-no Republicans for refusing to work with him, even on legislation they support. But Mr. Bipartisan just may be smarter than all of us as he wears out his left arm signing new laws in the wake of a resounding Republican victory that doesn’t give them more power until next year, when they can start being bipartisan for real.
SAY WHAT? George Orwell made my 20 Most Influential Thinkers of the 20th Century list because he saw so many things others did not and put his insights into writing. One of his observations popped up on my iGoogle page the other day: “In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.”
A couple of days later I thought of old George when I read the following (yeah, I read art stuff!) in The New York Times Arts section: “In her sculptures over the last several years, Ms. Bhabha has created a highly distinctive visual universe, one that is most gripping when its various cultural references are fully absorbed and altered. This absorption feels only partial in some of the new figures, and the images in some of the photographic pieces feel simply layered rather than integrated and complicated.”
Geez, I dunno, the stuff looked kinda, you know, integrated and all, to me.
Happy new year.