Obama’s play action

The big story at the infrequently traveled intersection of sports and politics this week is the President’s congratulatory phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie about installing renewable energy equipment at Lincoln Financial Field.  During their discussion, they also mentioned quarterback Michael Vick, which seems to be drawing more attention.

There’s no word yet on whether the President will be calling the other team just north of DC on I-95, the Baltimore Ravens.  While the gave Vick a second chance, the Ravens have taken in wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who served a month for DUI manslaughter.  They have also stuck by linebacker Ray Lewis, who beat the rap on murder charges by rolling on his accomplices and went on to have an excellent career and win a Superbowl.  (By the way, did you know that a group of ravens is actually called a murder?)  On the other hand, Obama might be slow getting there – after all, the Eagles really gave Vick his second chance about a year and a half ago.

So why make this call now?

A possible explanation is to give his enemies something to talk about, and allow them to use a slow news cycle to work themselves into a lather about something that is, essentially, a non-issue.  Coming after a productive lame duck session, this could permit the administration to take a high road while its opponents chatter about Vick and dogfighting.  It would be the messaging equivalent of a draw or a play action pass – tricking the opposition into being out of position.

Of course, this isn’t a football game, but electoral politics – and voters don’t largely pay attention.  Riding a winning streak as the President is, why expose your administration to negative messages by wading into issues that people actually care about?

Joanne Bamberger of AOL’s Politics Daily points out that Pennsylvania’s electoral votes will be in serious play in 2012, and suggests Obama is building good will now.  That certainly makes sense, but 2012 is still a long way away, and making nice with fickle Eagles fans now won’t necessarily pay dividends in 22 months.  Heck, if Vick throws four interceptions in a playoff game, or isn’t playing with the Eagles next year, those comments may do nothing in 22 months. Much more important to Obama, as Bamberger alludes, is Lurie’s checkbook – which, when not being used to pay rehabilitating NFL players, makes large donations to Democrat presidential candidates.  And keep in mind that Lurie, and not the administration, made the details of the conversation public.

It is most likely that the President did not intend for the conversation to be public – not that it was secret, but just that it wasn’t intended as a public statement.  And, in that private conversation – which was, remember, also about renewable energy – the President took some time to blow even more smoke up the rear end of a potential donor.

It must have worked – otherwise, Lurie wouldn’t be so proud about spilling the beans.

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