Elizabeth Edwards' op-ed in The New York Times today aptly holds the title, "Bowling 1, Health Care 0," as it criticizes the media obsession with Barack Obama's bowling form and score during the past three weeks. My research shows that while cable news gasbags such as Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews, and the entire Fox crew, were the worst offenders, the Times itself has carried dozens of references to "bowling-gate" in its news pages and blog entries.
Maureen Dowd even had to run an embarrassing correction after she alleged that Obama had improperly accepted the donation of bowling shoes from Sen. Bob Casey, when it was the other way around. Today she refers, again, to the "bowling debacle." Please, stop this woman before she kills again.
Scarborough, of course, said Americans wanted a real macho man in the White House, perhaps forgetting his unceasing attacks on Bill Clinton's mannish behavior in office. Matthews suggested that Obama was "prissy."
But all you need to say is: Which president was the most avid bowler? And, of course, the answer is: Richard Nixon. He even paid $400 out of his own pocket to lease automatic pin-setters and during Watergate went down the basement to roll off some tension.
Actually, a search of the historical record finds that the infamous White House bowling alley -- sometimes two alleys -- dates back to the Truman administration. But Truman (now known as a suitably tough guy) hated bowling. I've found the only photo of him bowling, which was published on the cover of Kegler magazine. Sure enough, he was wearing a tie, the very look for which Obama earned much mocking. Truman was also a lefty (I mean, lefthanded).
Truman even wore a vest!
You won't find many references to bowling when examining the lives of other "manly" presidents since, including JFK, LBJ (couldn't even golf), Reagan, and Poppy Bush. Who was the biggest bowling advocate near the top? Dan Quayle.
Nixon and Quayle. That is really something to aspire to.
In fact, the pair who might have done more bowling at the White House than anyone weren't even males. They were Lady Bird Johnson and Muriel Humphrey, who tried to do it every week.
Of course, many presidents have golfed, but are you really going to tell me that this "sport" is more macho than driving the lane in basketball -- which Obama happens to be good at? The Obama/Tiger Woods analogies only go so far, thank god.
Greg Mitchell is author of the new book So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq, which has been hailed by Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, Arianna H and others, and features a preface by Bruce Springsteen. He is a former all-star high school bowler.