July 20, 2004

Say It Ain’t So

Political reporters across the United States today share a palpable sense of loss and grief: Mike Ditka has declined to run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. What had promised to be one of the most spirited, delightful and colorful campaigns in the country now bids to become no race at all: Some are counseling the Illinois Republican Party to surrender the Senate seat they now hold without a fight – to cede it to Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Illinois is to American politics what the black-and-blue division used to be to the National Football League – a place where people play for keeps, and where old-fashioned pols love nothing more than to deliver a good haymaker and loosen an opponents’ teeth. Ditka would have been the ideal Republican candidate for the state, which is why every major Illinois GOP Grandee begged him to run. He is opinionated, brash, fearless and candid.

Oh, wait: That makes him a good football coach and a lousy politician. The other potentially disqualifying factor is that Ditka has earned his living through hard work and not through legal fees, consultancies, inheritance, or other forms of sponging off other people. He would have been forced to surrender productive labors in order to enter the World’s Most Exclusive Club. In addition, his active knowledge of business could handicap his ability to communicate with fellow senators, who find such talk as incomprehensible as the quantum physics.

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