By Joe Scarborough
“I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game.”
– Barack Obama on his political skills in 2004
It’s not wise for a politician to compare himself with an athlete nicknamed “The King.” But that’s exactly what President Barack Obama did at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he aligned himself with basketball superstar LeBron James.
Seven years later, it seems the president’s immodest assessment of himself turned out to be right.
Barack Obama is LeBron James.
Like King James, the president was blessed early with a remarkable set of skills that quickly became the envy of mere mortals. Both men were bona fide superstars who could move faster, play smarter and thrill audiences more than all other opponents in sports arenas or at political conventions.
Obama, like James, moved ruthlessly through suitors, dumping loyal supporters along the way when it served his larger purpose: to get into the big game.
For the Democratic nominee, that chance came when Wall Street spun out of control in September 2008. He got elected, but not before turning his back on many of the same people who made his rise possible – including the man who officiated his marriage and baptized his children.
Like Obama, LeBron was also willing to turn his back on a franchise and a city that also happened to be his hometown.
Obama entered the big leagues with faux Greek columns lining his stage while King James made his grand entrance on a glamorous South Beach riser adorned with lasers, smoke bombs and roaring crowds.
Obama used his grand moment to declare that future generations would look back to his elevation as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
LeBron used his moment in the sun to strut before screaming Miami fans while proclaiming that he would bring “five, six, seven” championships to the Heat.
Despite both men’s abundance of promise and surplus of confidence, they are now bound – not by greatness – but by their own collapse when the klieg lights burned at their brightest.
As Grantland’s Bill Simmons wrote last spring, “LeBron James melted down in Dallas, disappeared and extended his “Wait a second, what the hell just happened???” streak to two straight years. Why isn’t LeBron shooting? Why isn’t he driving to the basket? Does he realize this game is being televised? You can’t call it a meltdown or a breakdown; that would belittle what happened. Call it a LeBrondown.”
Or if you’re a Democrat, an “Obamadown.”
If you’re a progressive in Congress who keeps waiting for the president to rise to the promise of hope and change, perhaps you can relate more to this Simmons quote:
“By Game 3, (Miami teammate) Dwyane Wade was clearly telling LeBron … “I CANNOT DO THIS BY MYSELF! YOU ARE THE MOST TALENTED PLAYER ALIVE! STEP IT UP! I NEED YOU!!!””
But like James disappearing in plain sight while the entire sports world watched in stunned disbelief, Obama always slips to the side of the court when his teammates need him the most.
Supporters of Obama find this character trait the most frustrating, while historians consider it his most defining.
Over the past two years, I have asked numerous presidential historians whether any Oval Office occupant ever deferred so much to lowly congressmen and senators. Their answer is always “no.”
So his supporters are left asking how to explain a president who claims in his first presidential press conference that the U.S. economy will never recover if a stimulus bill is not passed – despite the fact that president allowed Nancy Pelosi (see also Dwyane Wade) to carry the entire load?
How do you explain a president who allows his agenda to be dominated for 18 months by a health care debate in which he refuses to tell his own Democratic leaders his stance on the most important issues of that debate – including whether he supported the public option?
How do you explain the president’s continued failure to produce a plan to save Social Security and Medicare?
How do you explain the president’s refusal to adopt any of his own debt commission’s recommendations?
How do you explain the president’s refusal to draft a working budget?
How do you explain to frustrated Democrats that every time they want their president to stand up and fight, he instead disappears into the woodwork?
There’s only one answer.
He’s LeBron, baby.
A guest columnist for POLITICO, Joe Scarborough hosts “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and represented Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001.