Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Chicago, Illinois, USA
September 11
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Editor and Founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes He has been a guest on the BBC, Ring of Fire Radio, Ed Schultz, Joshua Holland's Alternet Radio Hour, the Burt Cohen show, and Our Common Ground. His essays have been featured by Salon, Alternet, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Kos. The NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Utne Reader, Washington Monthly, Slate, and the Week (among others) have featured his expert commentary and analysis on race, politics, and popular culture.

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Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 12, 2012 1:24PM

Forget Boxing, the 2012 Election is More Like Pro Wrestling

Rate: 10 Flag

The news media and pundits love to use sports analogies when discussing American politics. When describing the 2012 race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, boxing is their sport of choice.

Obama's supporters have inaccurately described his defeat by Romney in the first debate as a version of a deep game that is modeled on Muhammad Ali's legendary "rope-a-dope" strategy against George Foreman. Romney's backers claimed that he scored a TKO over Barack Obama, leaving the President flat on his back in the ring after the first debate.

In keeping with the boxing metaphor, the second debate in the 2012 presidential campaign featured Joe Biden, a wizened, experienced pugilist from the mean streets of Scranton versus a scrappy upstart with much to prove named Paul Ryan.

But what if the analogy is inaccurate?

Boxing is a poor fit for describing the presidential race between these two candidates. Boxing is a sport prefaced on merciless violence. People have been killed in the ring, or left handicapped, brain damaged, and physically broken by a match.

I am not not discounting the substantive differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's approach to governance, public policy, or stewardship of the Common Good. This election represents a clear difference on issues such as reproductive rights, public schools and education, tax policy, and health care reform. I also think that a Romney presidency would border on the disastrous for a country struggling to find its way out of the greatest economic downturn in 80 years.

While the stakes are very high, a choice between Obama and Romney cannot be reduced to a blood sport. Yes, political polarization, the rise of the New Right, and the White populism of the Tea Party do signal an increasing chasm and gulf in our society, that if recent surveys and research are to be believed, has limited our ability to relate to one another and imperiled the ability of the State to respond to issues of common concern.

However, there are great areas of overlap between the Republicans and Democrats which are little discussed. Neither Obama or Romney will engage in a substantive discussion of wealth inequality, the destruction of unions and manufacturing, a flat minimum wage, and the power of economic elites in this country to subvert democracy.

Both will continue a policy of American empire and intervention abroad. Both Romney and Obama have demonstrated a lack of willingness to address the rise of the surveillance state, and the continual erosion of privacy and personal liberty under the guise of "the War on Terror."

And of course, Obama and Romney will not discuss the realities of the color line, the semi-permanence of white racism, and how race and class intersect to limit the life chances of many tens of millions of Americans.

In all, the 2012 election features a centrist Right-leaning Democrat who would have been a Rockefeller Republican in another era running against a flip-flopping, quasi-moderate, near sociopathic Republican who will do anything to win the White House. Regardless of the outcome, the Republic will survive; moreover, a fight over a very narrow area of public policy which does little to challenge Power will continue unabated.

Contemporary American politics is more like professional wrestling than a boxing match.

The outcomes are predetermined in the former. Consequently, the force of personalities, storytelling, and the to and fro between competitors (what we wrestling fans call "in-ring generalship" and "workrate") are the elements of a great match. Professional wrestling is a spectacle that succeeds by drawing the audience into the story and manipulating their emotions.

The same logic holds true in the race between Obama and Romney. All one needs to do is examine the 24 hour news cycle and the media's desperate effort to find a story--any story at all--to keep the public's attention. Alternatively, the pundit classes' obsession with the presidential "horse race" is another example of where the story is the thing, and the narrative will be told in such a way as to produce the illusion of a very competitive race. Consequently, the public will be caught up in the action--and not necessarily the substance (or implications) of what is being discussed.

There are other parallels between boxing and professional wrestling as well.

1. Before the rise of the World Wrestling Federation (now called the WWE), professional wrestling was divided up into various territories. The South, Northeast, Mid Atlantic  Texas, Florida, the Northwest, Chicago, the Midwest, and California all had their various wrestling fiefdoms run by individuals or families. Wrestlers would move from place to place, building up their popularity by doing shows, and then if lucky, challenging the regional champion. Eventually, those regional associations were eaten up and collapsed into two large entities. They controlled the stars, put on the big shows, and got the TV time. The smaller, independent promotions were left to fend for themselves and fill out the rest of the market for a niche audience.

The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are the big wrestling companies and territories of contemporary politics.

2. Who has the "book?" This is wrestling-talk for who controls the outcome of the match and plans the storylines. Depending on the era, the booker could be a trusted older wrestler who paid his dues, knows how to tell a story, and can mentor young talent. In other situations, the book was held by the owner. If it is your money on the line, what better way to serve your own interests than to determine the outcomes of your own shows? Vince McMahon is that figure in the WWE. In the now defunct AWA, it was their champion and owner, the legendary Verne Gagne, who came up with the stories and (for a long time) was also their star performer.

In American politics, this matter is a bit more complicated . It is true that the big money interest groups have an outsized influence in what transpires. They help to influence the "storylines" and to shape what is placed on the national agenda. The Super Pacs, and the Koch Brothers for example, are the guys playing politics in the locker room and gaming the system for themselves.

However, the real bookers are those centers of power in American society that always seem to benefit regardless of who is in office. These are the military industrial complex, the financier class, the banksters, and other global plutocrats. All they care about is that the tickets are sold, and that the concessions are purchased because he who holds "the book" is often the owner as well. Regardless of the outcome, they are going to get paid.

3. The talking heads and news analysts "frame" the news for the public. In professional wrestling, there are announcers who favor the villain or "heel." Others talk up "the face" or good guy. And there are commentators who break the rules and wink at the audience by balancing a discussion of a wrestler's in-ring ability and prowess, with a subtle concession that none of this is in fact "real." In fact, the commentators are being told what to say by the bookers backstage. Just like the referees in the ring, the announcers are all part of an elaborate and highly choreographed show that is designed to win over the audience's emotions.

MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, and the other major news networks are doing the color commentary for American politics. Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough, and others are the Jim Ross and Jerry the King Lawlers of the TV pundit class. Their job is first and foremost to spin a story and keep the public interested in the shows. High ratings equal more ad revenue.

4. Managers were once featured characters in professional wrestling. Managers were a great asset because they could help a physically gifted wrestler who was not talented verbally to get his story across to the audience. Some would babysit and mentor wrestlers on the road in order to keep them out of trouble. A great manager could also add an "X factor" to a wrestler, by being a secret weapon of sorts to help him or her win a match. The greatest wrestling managers were amazing personalities who had devoted followings: their relationship with a wrestler could guarantee them a shot at instant credibility and popularity with the fans.

Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly are the best talkers on the Right. Ed Schultz and Lawrence O'Donnell are the best talkers on the Left. In professional wrestling, the former would be amazing heel managers because of their smugness, craftiness, and ability to make the audience hate them; the latter would be great assets for a face who was not particularly gifted on the mic, and who needed someone sharp and passionate to help them tell their story.

5. Fans are integral to professional wrestling. If we do watch on the TV, attend live shows, buy the DVDs, share our stories, and pass on the legacy from one generation to the next, then the hobby and the "sport" will die. The greatest matches in professional wrestling manipulated the crowd's emotions, took the fans on a journey, and played out an epic struggle between two titans. From Andre vs. Hogan, to Steamboat vs. Flair, the epic battles between Flair and Dusty, and the amazing series of matches between Michaels and Undertaker, the common element was the hot crowd and the fans who were deeply and personally invested in what happened inside of the squared circle.

There are two types of fans. There are "marks" who believe--even in this era--that professional wrestling is not scripted. There are "smart marks" who know that professional wrestling is an elaborate soap opera. But for those of us in the latter group, this fact makes us want to follow the sport even more closely, to learn its history, and to really try to figure out the various angles. Why? Because on some level most smart marks wish they were either professional wrestlers themselves or somehow directly involved in the business.

In American politics the Obamabots, Right-wing mouth breather Tea Party types, the foot soldiers, as well as low information, yet nonetheless very enthusiastic and passionate voters for both the Democrats and the Republicans, are the marks. They are so caught up in the show, the spectacle and its transcendent rhetoric and simple storylines with "good guys," "bad guys," and its accompanying moral clarity, that they do not see that it is all a work, a charade of sorts.

The bloggers, and those others who aspire to be members of the chattering class, are the smart marks. Their level of information, sophistication, and knowledge about the game is much deeper than the average fan. However, because they know more--and have invested time and energy to gain this expertise--the smart marks of American politics are much more invested in the outcome because on a basic and practical level many of them are invested--financially, personally, career wise--in who wins the match.

The activists and real change agents are those who go beyond a "worked shoot." They actually run in to the ring, tell the truth about what is going on backstage to the public, or shake things up by exposing the fraud that professional wrestling (and American politics in general) has become). Sadly, there are few such folks in either game.

6. The professional wrestlers are the human fuel that gets ground up and spat out in order to tell a physical story for the pleasure of the fans, and for the promise of fame and fortune. Without "the talent" there is no professional wrestling. Every part of the card matters. But, those who really "draw," i.e. bring in the big money, are at the the top of ticket. These are the marquee wrestlers--the Rocks, Hogans, Snukas, Austins, Flairs, Undertakers, Harts, Punks, Andres, Jerichos, HHHs, Angles, and Michaels.

Obama and Romney are the two premier professional wrestlers in the game today. If I held the book, the story would go as follows.

Obama is a face, the good guy, who worked really hard to win the belt. He overcame impossible odds and took on a stable of established wrestlers, beating them or otherwise outsmarting them. Obama even enlisted his foes, the Clintons, to his side as enforcers.

Never a physical powerhouse, Obama is a great technical wrestler who was weak on the mic but had flourishes of passion and raw talent that won over the crowd. Now, the face champion is tired and exhausted. He has defended the belt against all comers. He has even compromised his values in order to win a match at the risk of alienating some of his fans. Obama is loved by his people with a passion; he has disappointed and worn out his welcome with some of his most enthusiastic supporters (who are down on his workrate as of late); Barack Obama is Hogan in his later years, or John Cena in the present. Smart marks want Obama to become CM Punk. However, he is apparently incapable of making that turn to a more direct and real persona

Mitt Romney is the perfect heel. He is cold, calculating, sophisticated, indifferent to the little guy, entitled, smug, has money, and can play the victim with expert conviction. Romney will do anything at all to win. He is Ted DiBiase, the million dollar champion (or perhaps even HHH, Buddy Rodgers, or Nick Bockwinkle). Yes, Ric Flair played the rich guy heel role. But, he was too charismatic and likable to hate.

Mitt Romney would be a great villain in any era. Romney's obliviousness to just how offensive his demeanor, speech, and attitude really are to the common man makes him an archetypal villain. There is something about Romney that drives a person to hate him. Romney is so despised that even his allies reluctantly support him as the best of the worst available options. 


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Mitt Romney is Gorgeous George.

Well-wrought piece, as always, and an apt analogy carried-out artfully to the extreme. I have only one disagreement; you say: "near sociopathic Republican". I beg to differ with the word "near":
"...obliviousness to just how offensive his demeanor" gets it just right! After (what am I talking about) DURING Ryan's performance last night - he angered me so much more than Romney has ever got me. Maybe that will correct itself these next few weeks. And I agree with Don - Mitt is "Gorgeous" George while Ryan is just "Curious"! R
I mean "Tom Cordle" not Don. Sorry about that.
And the laws that regulate elections are comparably effective as the WWE refs.
Romney is the new Nixon.
politics is not wrestling, or boxing. it's golf.

talking about politics is not a seemly occupation for adolescents, of any age. the grown ups will chat amongst themselves while walking around the course, and do the serious activity in the clubhouse, out of sight.

if you are worried about not getting membership in the golf club, relax- hardly anyone does. there's only 536 real grown-ups in america, out of about 250 million 'voters' as they are called. since voting doesn't accomplish anything, perhaps they should be called 'chumps.'
This is actually brilliant.

Romney is not Nixon. Romney is in most respects who Nixon wished he was - he grew up as an outsider, not privileged. In most respects, but not all: Nixon was a lot smarter. Nixon was nobody's idea of a chameleon. Nixon actually accomplished a lot for his country while he was abusing his office, such as engaging China, getting us out of Vietnam, and founding the Environmental Protection Agency. Yeah, a Republican did that.
Biden's distractive and brutish antics might be tolerated in a boxing ring or on a wrestling mat, but I assure you that in the more civilized venues of a tennis match or golf tournament, he would have been thrown out as he would have been if the moderator, whose wedding Obama attended, had had the guts to assert her authority. Ryan was fully entitled to do the same, but was too civil and civilized to do so.
You know you delete my comments all you want in your typical leftist opposition obliterating fashion making all your smears and allegations against those who are supposed right wingers, but it won't change reality and I tell you my friend if the day come when all you progressives have managed to squander America into a third world regime that uses social justice as a way of robbing freedom and the right of speech, your day will come!
Social justice Robbing freedom? Who the Hell are you, George Orwell? Allowing gays to marry is robbing freedom? Sorry, it's granting it. Keeping ethnic groups from being promoted is robbing freedom? Invading bedrooms is robbing freedom, but it's not what progressives do, it's what conservatives do.

You want to know what Third World countries look like? They have no middle class - a few rich people and a whole lot of poor people. It isn't progressives who want to reduce tax rates on the rich to less than it is to the middle class while the middle class gets in more and more trouble. Death Tax? Getting rid of inheritance taxes sends us straight toward that polarized, Third World model. Avoiding taxing the rich so much that you're willing to throw the United States of America into default on its loans, something Ronald Reagan would never have dreamed of? As a progressive - screw that, I don't like that label - as a Liberal, one of the main reasons I object to conservativism in its current form is precisely because it is taking us straight toward a Third World economy.

It's not we who rob freedom. Patriot Act? Giving the government the right to bug whoever they want? I've read enough Orwell to know what Newspeak looks like. It looks like this.
I’m sorry for Gordon that Ryan had his ass handed to him. Obama will be better in this next debate.
Whatever vestige of urbane behavior Tennis or Golf exemplified has devolved into anguished grunts and the ubiquitous moron screaming “in the hole”.
Sir -- you are suggesting that somehow the candidates are scripted as well as the entire political process? I'm shocked, shocked! Much like Claude Reins in Casablanca.
Try "Rains", ONL.

Ubiquitous moron is as good a description of Biden as any I've heard.
you're only complaining because obama lost.

if he'd won the first debate, you'd be claiming that was a pivotal point for african american intellectual achievement.
An excellent analysis! I've been thinking for several years that the two-party "conflict" was like a wrestling league, with showy rivalries that get fans all worked up while the money flows to cynical promoters. But I haven't actually watched 15 minutes of wrestling since 1967. I love your post because it shows how well the analogy works on many levels, backed up with inside details from the business. Open Salon needs many more "smart marks".
I agree with `Tom Cordle.
Mitt's hair drives me crazy.
He's be nicknamed in war?
Pretty Boy
His bowel Growl in jungle?
V.C. do think Mitt blathers.
Yes. Smart Marks. Aim --
hamartia is an old Word --
Folk use to Try and Aim --
If one missed de' Mark?
they Respected Human
Tried Once Again. Aim
ill Folk No Even Aim
if bowels growl at night?
visit and 'neigh' aloud.
no kill fellow humans.
I be busy eating here.
Farmers eat leftovers.
You are no too obtuse.
Congratulation. E.P..
Relieve inner bowels.
Bladder be too full.
No Be the Fool.
You Not Full?
Eat Pot-Luck
Mitt & V.P. be Ridiculous.
Colon growl from green
soup with Pure herbals
and ` Zeus is No obtuse.
News is Trumpet Boom.
Horn of Ram Horn Do
Trumpet Sound` OHO!
Mitt's voice sound` Bolt!
Thunder-Bolt anal Boom!
Ay, ill-concocted` Bums!
We need Mud-Wrestlers?
If Jake the Snake Roberts came out of retirment, and stayed off the sweet stuff, I'd totally vote for him. As it is, the only hope for this country is Undertaker in 2016.
Why would anyone claim that a debate performance was a pinnacle of intellectual achievement for an ethnic group?

I find that offensive and I"m not Black.
Chauncey, not just spot on -- this is, with all respect to the Mr. Etch- a-Sketch, Willard "THE TRUTH" Romney -- but dead on. They are far from the pretenders of previous contests in this scripted ring. Obama, now, decides that he wants to be the New/Old Barack. I think that there is far too much theatrics here. With Romney in this hyper kinetic over- Energized Bunny phase -- smiling like he's going to wet his pants, eager to shake every hand possible, then waving and nodding his head like a freaking crack head. Is this guy acting this desperate -- or is he really this crazed?
If he wants it this bad, then I fear for our country. We'll buy from nearly any snake oil salesman ... Not normal stuff.R>>>>>>
Very good analogy. The way the pundits judge the debates, it could even be a corporate beauty contest.