How LeBron's Move Helps the Tea Party

So LeBron James is abandoning Cleveland for sunny Miami. That's a tough break for Ohio sports fans. But what effect might LeBron's departure have on Ohio's politics? I think it helps the Tea Party, for reasons I'll lay out.

First, let's stipulate that reading any kind of meaning into a celebrity sports event is by its very nature pretty ridiculous, more like fortune-telling than the rigorous political analysis you've come to expect from The Atlantic. But I have to justify spending all afternoon watching ESPN and reading Bill Simmons (and gawking at models). So here goes.

I've spent the week traveling around Texas, particularly the Gulf area southeast of Houston, whose residents have been hit hard by the offshore drilling moratorium, the end of the Space Shuttle, and its successor program, Constellation. At the Fourth of July parade I attended in Friendswood, near the Johnson Space Center, the economic dislocation was palpable. Everybody worried that jobs were leaving and not coming back, so their kids would leave, too. NASA's decline in particular--Obama's space policy would end the agency's manned flights, a source of tremendous local pride--was upsetting to everyone, because the whole area was about to lose its identity.

There were four tents on the parade concourse with political themes: Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, and Glenn Beck's 9-12 outfit. The first two were nearly empty; the latter two were jammed with people, so I hung out there talking to them. They were angry about a lot of stuff, but the unifying theme was their feeling that they were on the losing end of things, and to hell with the system that had put them there.

Back to Ohio. The unemployment rate is well above the national average, nearly 11 percent. The state's manufacturing base has been decimated, and those jobs aren't coming back. And now, suddenly, the biggest star in the state -- an economic engine in his own right, and a guy who probably single-handedly made Cleveland a recognizable sports mecca all over the world -- has forsaken its residents. And not just forsaken them, but utterly humiliated them by forsaking them on a globally televised ESPN Special!

Would you be angry? I sure would be. And I'd be that much more amenable to the Tea Party message that everything is going to hell.

UPDATE: Cleveland's so pissed they might set their river back on fire. Is there a Sharron Angle of the Buckeye State?

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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