“One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” Sure, it has become Heidi Klum’s signature line on Project Runway, but it applies far beyond the world of fashion. In fact, a meteoric rise followed by a stunning fall from grace has become a clichéd storyline for some of our biggest national stars. Lebron James and President Obama are two of the most prominent men to see their popularity plummet because of some career missteps. Interestingly, the stories of the basketball star and the political heavyweight have more in common than most realize.
LeBron James and his historic free agency has dominated the headlines for the past few months. The signs of LeBron’s talent came young. He started for his high school as a freshman and led them to a state title. He was the first sophomore ever selected to the All-USA First Team. As a junior he was named Mr. Basketball of Ohio for the second year in a row, identifying him as the best player in the state. By the time he was a senior he was the most hyped basketball recruit of all-time with his high school games regularly filling ESPN broadcasts. Opting for the NBA straight out of high-school he was chosen first in the draft, by his hometown Cavaliers, selected as Rookie of the year, and was already hearing comparisons with Michael Jordan.
Crushed under the weight of expectation, LeBron fell. As a recent Fox Sports article explained,
Without even having to dye his hair, LeBron James had suddenly become the biggest heel in American sports.
“I can’t get involved in that,” he said. “This is a business.”
You could almost see James’ thoughts, as if they’d been superimposed in neatly lettered in cartoon bubbles over his head: BUT I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT! THEY’RE CHANGING THE RULES ON ME!
The problem was James decided he was suddenly too big for Cleveland. The bright lights of a bigger city were the draw, but they blinded him from what made him truly great – the fans. The accomplishments of LeBron would be nothing but numbers on a page if not for the millions of people who watch every game. Suddenly he became swallowed by the fame. His free agency became a spectacle that overshadowed the NBA Championship. He set up a prime-time special to announce where he was going. He even dubbed his switch to the Miami Heat as “The Decision.”
He was big, but the charm of any star comes in the hope that they don’t realize just how big they are. LeBron realized it. His star faded because of it. Now he is just another money-grubbing fame floozy in a league full of them. One day he was “King James,” hero of the basketball court, the next he was the league’s biggest villain.
The story of President Obama follows a similar trajectory. He attended Harvard Law School where he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He began a political career in 1996 as an Illinois state Senator, crafting enough name recognition to be elected to the Senate in 2004. During his first Congressional term there were already whispers of a future presidential run. After just three years in the Senate he launched the presidential campaign, turning from long shot to favorite in less than six months. Just four years after beginning a career in politics he was elected President – defeating long-time Senator John McCain by collecting 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173.
Obama was “in” with the American people. Now, after numerous policy and PR missteps he finds himself on the “outs” with voters. For a man accustomed to success Obama was likely left wondering the same thing as LeBron: “BUT I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT! THEY’RE CHANGING THE RULES ON ME!”
It is little wonder why Obama would feel this way. He captured the Presidency in large part on his eloquence, charisma, and promises of change. He still talks a mean game and he’s brought about some major policy changes. Yet President Obama finds himself growing more unpopular by the month. A new Washington-Post poll finds that nearly 60% of voters “say they lack faith in the president to make the right decision for the country.”
The problem, just like LeBron, was that he began to believe the hype. He got caught up and eventually tripped over his own mystique. Such hubris allowed him to convince himself that he could talk the American people into liking anything. Just throw his face on the TV or let him make a few speeches and everyone would fawn over his ideas. As LeBron found out Americans are capable, and often willing, of compartmentalizing your talents. We will still love to watch LeBron play basketball. Many of us will still cheer Tiger Woods on the golf course. We are fans of them as athletes, but not as people. Obama’s suffers from the inverse. We still love him as a person. He is engaging, smart, and talented. We still like to hear him talk, unfortunately not nearly as much as he does. Moreover, his string of legislative stumbles and a fundamental disconnect with the majority of Americans have caused us to be wary of his presidency.
To succeed in his remaining two years President Obama must remember who, rather than what, brought him to power. The “what” was his undeniable gravitas. The bloom is off that rose. The “who” were the millions of voters who believed that he represented the change that Washington needed. With all the hoopla that followed his incredible ascension he forgot about the voters. More specifically he forgot that the voters need jobs. Americans have been demanding a comprehensive plan on jobs for two years now. Obama threw us a $862 billion stimulus bone and left Americans to fend for themselves. It hasn’t worked. Unemployment remains high and small business optimism remains low. Where LeBron had “The Decision” Obama has “Recovery Summer.” LeBron’s team choice didn’t warrant the lofty name and Obama has done nothing to earn a speaking tour about the success of his stimulus plan.
Therein lies the fundamental disconnect. Through the prism of their narcissism they don’t realize how out of touch they sound. It caused them both to go from hero to heel. Obama may be “in” today. But the next day, i.e. November, let’s make sure he’s out.
by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee