In Washington, Pass Anything and It's a Win

Why sports analogies sometimes miss the mark

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It's pretty clear how the score is kept in the Beltway media game: if you're the President and Congress passes a piece of legislation, you win! That's what happened late last night when Congress approved three free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. "President gets win as trade deals pass," reads The Hill newspaper headline. "Obama gets win as Congress passes free-trade agreements," reads The Washington Post. "Obama gets legislative win after Congress passes free-trade agreements" reads The Examiner.

Problem is: saying the president "wins" is a strange sports analogy on this particular issue. Sure, the president wanted the bill to pass. In an address to Congress last month, he urged both parties to pass the trade agreement, "If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers," he said on Sept. 9, and has been repeating some variation of the line in speeches since. But during that address, did you happen to notice who applauded? “He got virtually the entire Republican party to stand up on that,” Representative Darrell Issa told Bloomberg after the speech. “On their side, only a dozen or so stood up."

Last night's voting matched the crowd response. "All three agreements had broad Republican support, while they divided House Democrats," reports The Hill. "Only 31 Democrats supported the deal with Colombia, while 59 Democrats backed the deal with South Korea and 66 supported the Panama agreement."

Of course, the president is allowed to have policy goals his party opposes. So maybe this was a "win" because it was his idea? "Negotiations on all three agreements were completed by former President George W. Bush’s administration in 2007."

Okay. But maybe free trade is a priority for President Obama that's more important than political party? "During Obama’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, he tended to underscore the risks that free trade posed for U.S. workers and the environment rather than potential benefits," writes The Washington Post.

Given the dynamics at play, it's not clear why last night's vote couldn't just as easily be labeled a "win" for Republicans. Then again, in sports analogies, only one side wins. And no one's getting rid of the jock talk in politics any time soon.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.