My favorite quarterback of all time is Tommy Kramer. I think he earned my loyalty when he replaced Fran Tarkenton in a December 1977 game against the 49ers in which the Vikings trailed 24-0 in the third quarter. Kramer led a spectacular comeback, hitting Sammy White for the winning touchdown, 28-27. He became known as two minute Tommy, a quarterback whose arm was strong and accurate enough to keep any game within reach. One memory is watching the Vikings come back against Cleveland in 1980, winning and making the playoffs on a last second pass to Ahmad Rashad. My dad and I jumped up in celebration, causing my mom to drop the grocery bags she was bringing in the house to rush in and see what was wrong — she thought my dad had had a heart attack.
Kramer had some truly awesome performances, but there was a kind of routine to his comebacks. He’d make little errors, miss some key throws, and look a bit inconsistent early in the game, setting up the need for a comeback. He had trouble just playing it safe or holding a lead, he was best when he was poised to use his arm to lead a come back.
Right now the political pundits are singing in unison: the Republicans will win big in November, perhaps retaking both the House and Senate, and Obama’s Presidency, after an oh so promising start, is starting to unravel. The reason is clear: the economy has not recovered, and people are in a sour mood. And, though Reagan and Clinton faced similar problems at the same stage of their Presidency (Obama scores slightly above them in approval ratings, in fact), the sense is that the Democrats are in for a thumping. Obama hasn’t been written off for 2012 — the economy may improve by then — but if this were a football game, we’d be in the third quarter and the score would be 24-0.
Kramer’s heroics came to mind when I watched a clip of Obama on stage, feisty and ready to campaign hard for the Midterms. His Presidency has been like Kramer’s play — competent, some signs of brilliance (he actually got more accomplished in terms of legislation than most Presidents in a short time), but also a number of unforced errors and apparent inattention. The result is that he’s fallen behind, and his only chance to improve his standing and save his party in November is to go deep. He has to take some risks and go on offense.
He may just pull it off. The Republicans have every reason to be gleeful about their prospects, but it’s early — and it’s possible they peaked too soon. In fact, from the Democratic perspective this has its silver lining. If it looked as if the Republicans would pick up seats but gain majorities, Democrats would likely remain unenthused. They expected major change from Obama, and a President simply isn’t powerful enough to pull that off, especially when fighting an economic crisis which I labeled “Great Depression II” the other day.
If, however, the Democrats can put together clips from Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Boehner, and a few others, and make a compelling argument that the Republican party is in the hands of ideologues whose ideas are dangerous and erratic, a lot of people who now say “generic Republican” to pollsters might rethink how they’ll vote on the individuals running in their races. The Democrats also need to pound home the point that the Republicans have no plan. Saying “cut taxes and cut spending” is easy as a slogan, but what will that mean in reality? Will it just be a return to the policies that brought us to this point? The GOP is purposefully (and smartly) silent on that — that’s why in times like these it’s much easier to be in the opposition.
The Republicans also have to worry about complacency, and outlandish statements coming out of some of their quarters. They’ve embraced issues like the mosque at ground zero (actually a community center blocks away) and a strong stance on illegal immigration, two issues which could hurt them in the eyes of independents, and could inspire Hispanic turn out against the Republicans.
Of course, Kramer’s comebacks sometimes fell short. In 1985 I was at the Metrodome when the Vikings took on the Eagles. They lost 37-35, despite a brilliant effort by Kramer. His final pass was caught in field goal range and the receiver got out of bounds…but time had run out. But for a few seconds the game was lost. Still, it was thrilling to watch. If Obama’s comeback effort falls short, it may not be that bad for him in the long run. He’s not up for re-election until 2012, and like Clinton in 1996, he may benefit from the Republicans over-reaching and thinking that disappointment with the status quo was a mandate for radical change.