The Next Closest Thing

During his interview with George Stephanopoulos, President Biden suggested that the only call for him to step down he might heed would have to come from “God Almighty.”  It’s said the Lord works in mysterious ways.  If that’s the case, imagine the following scene between Biden and actors James Earl Jones and  Kevin Costner, reprising their roles as Terrence Mann and Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams.

This excerpt is based on page 67 of the original screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson:

I wish I had your passion, Joe. However misdirected it may be, it’s still a passion.  I used to feel that way.

You got another message, didn’t you?

You’ll think I’m crazy.

I already think you’re crazy.

After a little thought, Ray smiles sadly.

It said, “The man’s done enough.”

Actually, the man’s done more than enough.  But that does not make the decision any easier, although not quite as tough as a fictional John Kennedy faces in my novel In the National Interest.  Kennedy is terminally ill and asks the protagonist Secret Service Agent Mason Rhodes, while aboard Marine One, whether he would rather be “a Wilson or a Lincoln.”

In Biden’s case, he might ask Rhodes, “Would you rather be a Jim Brown or a Muhammad Ali?”  For non-sports fans,  at age 30, Brown announced he was ending his career as a running back for the Cleveland Browns.  At the time he held records for most single game rushing yards, single season rushing yards, career rushing yards, total touchdowns, total rushing touchdowns and total all-purpose yards  In 1964, he led the Browns to the NFL championship.

I need not tell you how Ali’s career ended.  He continued to fight long after family and close friends urged him to stop.  His last two fights, losing his heavyweight title to Larry Holmes and failing to bounce back against Trevor Berbick, were hard to watch.  And each punch added to the accumulated cranial damage Ali suffered over his ring career.

Brown’s and Ali’s respective choices might help us understand why Biden is so determined to stay in the 2024 race for the White House.  Jim Brown, in the absence of free agency, had limited potential in the NFL.  He had to play for the Cleveland Browns at the salary offered by owner Art Modell.  In Terry Pluto’s book “Browns Town 1964,” he describes how Brown’s salary feud with Modell was the beginning of his racial activism.

I remember interviewing Jim Brown and he said, ‘I’m very interested in Black power, but I’m even more interested in green power because green power will give you Black power.’

If football capped his wealth potential, Brown proved he had a better option.  In 1964, he was cast as a buffalo soldier in “Rio Concho,” which led to his cinematic breakthrough in the 1966 production “The Dirty Dozen.”  When filming in London took longer than originally expected, Brown did not attend training camp.  Modell’s response?  He fined Brown $1,000 (real money in terms of a 1966 NFL salary) each week he was not in camp and told Brown he was letting his teammates down, a claim disputed by other members of the squad who knew Brown would be there when they needed him.  One can argue Modell’s actions robbed Brown of even more records and glory as the premiere running back in the game’s history.

A career cut short also applies to Ali, however, in his case, his absence from the ring was involuntary.  At the height of the Vietnam war, Ali was classified 1-A (fit for service) and faced induction in the U.S. Army.  In April 1967, Ali refused induction based on his claim of being a conscientious objector.  Two months later he was found guilty by a Houston jury of violating Selective Service laws.  On June 28, 1971, by a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction, explaining that the basis for the government’s denial of conscientious objection status was flawed.

For most of the time between Ali’s 1967 conviction and his successful 1971 appeal, he was without a passport and was denied a boxing license in all 50 states.  What should have been the prime of his boxing career was taken from him, which is why, this morning, I find even more empathy for Joe Biden as he faces the toughest decision of his political career.

In another reality, Joe Biden would be on the verge of leaving the political stage next January as a successful two-term president.  As the heir apparent to continue the policies and programs of the Obama administration, I have no doubt Biden would have handily defeated Donald Trump in 2016.  The party line was that, following the death of his son Beau, Biden was not prepared to launch a rigorous campaign.  But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd argues just the opposite. On August 1, 2015, Dowd wrote:

Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.

Unfortunately, it was too late. Obama and the Democratic National Committee were committed to a Hillary Clinton candidacy to which Biden deferred.  The title of Dowd’s column was, “What Would Beau Do?”  Therefore, I cannot help but wonder if this obsession with a second term is driven by regret that Biden did not listen to his dying son back in 2015.  And whether the voice Joe needs to hear is not God Almighty or an invisible specter in an Iowa cornfield, but Beau Biden’s telling him:

The man’s done enough.

For what it’s worth.


4 thoughts on “The Next Closest Thing

  1. Joe Biden is giving the last year’s of his life fighting to save America from becoming a fascist dictatorship! He’s knows how its all supposed to work, that’s how he’s gotten so much done even though the GOP are total obstructionists, and the SC is full of corruption. He has people in place who will do the same! Don’t ever change horses mid stream, it won’t turn out well!

  2. No one I know of can combine cinema and sports metaphors with as much acumen and impact as you do!🤗👍

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