I tend to agree with those who believe that you can learn a lot about a man’s character from how he plays sports. In that vein, Tucker Max’s recollection of playing basketball with a mid-30s Barack Obama at the University of Chicago is informative indeed:
“I do remember that he had a good understanding of the game. He knew when to backdoor cut, how to pick and roll, when to take his man away so you could drive, how to block out for rebounds, etc. And he would hit open jumpshots if left alone. He was not some doofus out there trying to get exercise. He understood the basics of basketball very well, which is better than most people who play pick-up. Just this knowledge of the game made him fun to play with.”
“But the thing is, even though he knew the basics and could execute them, his performance wasn’t anything beyond that. He didn’t have what basketball players call ‘old man game.’ Old guys who have that know every trick, use every advantage, and kill your youth and quickness with their guile and strength. That wasn’t Barack. He would beat you if given space, but if you played even half decent defense on him, you could take him out of the game.”
“He played point guard a lot, but I don’t remember him as a dominant court leader, controlling the flow of the game…. Weirdest thing about him — I always thought he would be better than he was. I mean, here was this guy, in good shape, relatively young (mid 30s at the time, I think) clearly likes and knows the game, and is black (so there’s the quasi-racist assumption that he’s good at basketball)… but he was never that great. Even after I knew the limits of his game, I always half-expected one day he would just decide to turn it on and light everyone up, but it never happened. He had everything that you’d think would make him great, and he definitely looked the part, but he never really turned that look into serious production in an actual game. I saw so many people pick him first, and then get burned because he didn’t play up to that pick.
This very much jibes with my perspective on Obama, which is that he is not a competitor and is naturally disengaged. That’s why I expected him to step down after his first term and why I don’t expect him to put in much of an effort in competing against Romney this fall. It’s also why I never put any credence in those who worried, needlessly, in my opinion, about Obama the Would-be Socialist Dictator cancelling the elections and ruling with an iron fist.
He simply doesn’t have it in him to try that hard. He doesn’t see the point of working that hard. This is a pattern that goes back to his high school days in Hawaii and can be seen in his graduate career at Harvard Law, his faux-literary career, and his political career. If someone is going to open the door for him, he’ll certainly bother to stroll through it, but he’s not interested in pushing on the door himself.
I’ve played against a lot of half-hearted competitors like this in a wide variety of sports. The one thing they all do is hang their heads and give up once the tide begins to turn against them. I suspect one reason the Democrats running his campaign already appear to be in panic mode prior to the Republican convention is because they know that if Romney gets a serious convention bounce and starts running ahead of Obama in the polls, Obama is going to quit on the campaign, quite possibly in literal fashion.
Already, he seems to be doing little more than going through the minimal motions necessary. When was his last major speech, his last big press conference? As for the potential for rumored October surprises, particularly from the Fed, ask yourself this question: why would Ben Bernanke prefer a lukewarm banker’s ally like Barack Obama to an enthusiastic quasi-banker like Mitt Romney?
UPDATE: Steve Sailer puts in a lot more work to reach a similar conclusion: My last word: it’s easy to overthink Obama. Don’t overlook the largest element in his make-up—the “apathetic quasi-intellectual sports fan.”