By Bridget Johnson - 07/11/10 08:00 PM EDT
What wouldn't any politician give for a primetime slam-dunk like the one scored by LeBron James last week?
The buildup to LeBron's announcement of whether he would stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers or, as a free agent, take his skills to another NBA team culminated in an hourlong ESPN show dubbed "The Decision." Surrounded by kids at a Boys and Girls Club in a setup that resembled a town hall meeting, LeBron, clad in the sort of Everyman button-down shirt favored by politicians attending state fairs, diplomatically tried to ease the blow of leaving Cleveland by announcing mega-donations to the kids.
But the build-up to LeBron's decision to switch parties — er, teams — hinged partly on that key voter concern, the economy. LeBron was touted as being able to save a city from recession single-handedly. He's hope, change and increased beer revenue rolled up in one 6'8" package.
Politicians would love to be in LeBron's size-16 shoes. You don't vote for him. You beg him to select you. Even President Barack Obama suggested no less than seven times (to no avail) that LeBron pick the Chicago Bulls.
As Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) tweeted during the buildup, "Wow this Lebron annct is a mde for tv production beyond anything we've ever attmpted! Lol"
While Missouri Senate candidate Robin Carnahan (D) had to slash ticket prices to try to fill a fundraiser headlined by Obama, LeBron netted the most-watched program on Thursday night by simply announcing his next career move. LeBron hauled in an estimated 8.4 million viewers on one cable network; Obama's primetime address last month about the oil spill reeled in 32.1 million viewers over 11 channels.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's big switch from the GOP to independent — built up over weeks of denials and hedging — was like a rerun on a UHF channel compared to the frenzy whipped up by "King James."
There was a strong taste of sour grapes left by LeBron's move. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) responded: "When Lebron decides he wants to play in a major-league city, he can look us up. New York City has a combined 51 championship titles. LeBron has zero. No biggie."
Still, LeBron has a media machine about which most politicians can only dream — imagine how much forgiveness there would be if he decided to make an endorsement in the Florida Senate race.
Recess week produced hardly a dip in political news as the Department of Justice announced it would sue Arizona over its immigration law, which Washington says trammels federal rights to control immigration policy. From administration officials hitting news shows — senior adviser David Axelrod, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs, Attorney General Eric Holder — to lawmakers, governors, candidates and sheriffs, the airwaves crackled with debate over the White House move.
Talk centered on the wisdom of the lawsuit not just leading into midterm elections, but as Obama has vowed to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will require Republican wooing.
they've got spine, if they're courageous and say what they should, the
American public will reward them, whatever office they're running for,"
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said Wednesday on MSNBC's "Hardball."
"The fact is, we have sanctuary cities all over this state that tell law enforcement you cannot cooperate with the federal government," Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) countered on the same program.
Just a tiny preview of the battle to intensify in coming months.
Reviving healthcare debate
To many outside the Beltway, recess appointments just look sneaky. Capitol Hill harbors suspicions of its own, as evidenced by the uproar after Obama named Harvard pediatrician Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over the July Fourth recess, bypassing a congressional confirmation process.
Such appointments are nothing new. President George W. Bush
made 171 during his two terms, including filibustered
nominees such as U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-Nev.) deemed Bush's recess appointments so excessive that
he put the upper chamber into pro forma sessions to keep them at bay.
Republicans lashed out with questions about Berwick's background and "romantic" appreciation of Britain's nationalized health service. But criticism was bipartisan. "Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a statement Wednesday.
Both parties see advantage in media coverage of the Berwick appointment.
The Obama administration, while trying to press the benefits of the healthcare law in the run-up to midterm elections, seized a chance to keep its nominee away from hot-button questions at a congressional hearing and not sully its healthcare P.R. agenda.
Republicans, while trying to seize on voter discontent or suspicion about the long-term effects of the healthcare legislation, used the recess appointment to jump on news shows and stoke the debate over the hot-button law once again.
The Berwick appointment propelled healthcare back into the spotlight over recess, but for whose gain remains to be seen.