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BookReview: First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters From Taft To Bush
by Don Van Natta Jr., Perseus Books Group, October 30, 2004, 1586482653

Don Van Natta is a weekend "hacker" who wrote an article attacking Clinton's veracity on the golf course. He ended up play a round with Clinton, and having a degree of respect for him, despite him taking "Billigans", which are not "Mulligans" (cheats) or "Gimmes" (putts assumed, instead of taken).

The book covers all the golfing presidents up to #43, George W. Bush. The prose is excellent, and the annecdotes are wonderful. Kennedy was the best, LBJ was the worst, and simply didn't care. Golf and politics mix constantly in the book. It's an enjoyable read that will teach you something unique about all the presidents.

[p311] As IT TURNS OUT, golf is fatal only to the presidential aspirants who dare not play it.

The list of recent Presidential nominees who are nongolfers is a losers' roll: AI Gore, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale. None of those men played the game, and all four were defeated in presidential elections by candidates whose affection for the game was well known to the electorate.

After all, it is impossible to imagine Al Gore yelling "Fore!" off the tee or soaking up an eighteen-hole lesson from Greg Norman. Michael Dukakis would look as ridiculous piloting a golf cart as he looked at the helm of an army tank wearing that oversized helmet. Can you imagine Walter Mondale laughing gleefully as he sneaked away for eighteen holes in the middle of a workday afternoon?

But you can envision George H. W Bush and George W Bush needling each other as they catapult the cart through a two-hour round of eighteen. You can hear Ronald Reagan joking about melting his metal iron shafts into an ashtray. And it is easy to see Clinton [p312] writing a "4" on his scorecard after shooting a "6." On the golf course, these presidents have acted the way we have come to expect them to act.

The golfing presidents are guys you can imagine relaxing with after playing a round. Over a few beers, it is easy to imagine replaying that awful hole with Taft or Harding or Ike or Ford.

In life and in politics, there are golfers and there are nongolfers. The American people have spoken: We prefer golfers.

Granted, this amounts to absurd political analysis, but it is hard to argue with these facts: In the past century, Jimmy Carter was the only nongolfer to defeat a golfer, Gerald Ford, on Election Day. Ford's pardon of another golfer, Nixon, did him in, though another golfer, Ronald Reagan, made sure that Carter served a single term. In fact, the three nongolfing chief executives in the past centuryHerbert Hoover, Harry S Truman, and Jimmy Carter-were all elected to single terms in office.

What does this phenomenon say about the state of the game and the state of presidential politics?

If you are a potential president, it is wise to play golf and wiser still to publicly embrace that passion. (William Howard Taft was exactly right, after all.) But be warned: Do not play too well. Dan Quayle was the most talented golfer to serve in the executive branch, but his single-digit handicap became a national punch line. If an elected official can make Nicklaus or Norman sweat, Americans will assume that he is spending too much time golfing and not enough time governing.

We want presidents who playas poorly and recklessly as we do. We would even prefer a golf cheat to a scratch golfer.

Via Rob 2006
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