Readers submit sports metaphors that explain Clinton vs. Obama.

Slate's weekly political roundtable.
March 14 2008 3:29 PM

The Gabfest Sports Metaphor Challenge

Readers flood us with contests that explain Clinton vs. Obama.

Hillary Clinton. Click image to expand.
Clinton vs. Obama: The gloves are off

The Slate Gabfest metaphor hunt has come to the close of the first stage. We hesitate to end it completely because, like the Democratic nominating race that it seeks to evoke, we think the metaphor challenge should have a certain interminable feel to it. My colleagues Emily Bazelon and David Plotz and I have, however, reached some preliminary conclusions based on an outstanding response from our listeners. We are humbled, flattered, and worried by the time and attention some of you put into your submissions. They arrived from, among other places, the Czech Republic; Midland, Texas; and Alice Springs, Australia.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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We said we would give points for the obscurity of the chosen sport. There were some fabulous and detailed descriptions of sports that met this test—curling, Russian face slapping, tetherball, rugby, and elephant polo—but they didn't fully capture the role of the superdelegates. Some analogies, like the several we received about the imprecise system for picking NCAA football champions, lacked the brutal round-after-round feel of this year's Democratic race.

To the listener who offered the metaphor about the Irish sport of hurling, we wish we had known you in college. Or at least I do, because I spent a day back then mesmerized by the sport, finally concluding that it was an excuse to wave sticks and didn't have any actual rules. We also learned a lot from one of you about curling, which made us sad that we didn't have more winter left in which to get out our brooms. Appealing idea: One side concedes a match when it becomes obvious it can't win and offers the victor a hearty handshake and the salutation "good curling." We hope that at the Democratic convention in Denver, we get to hear the loser say this to the winner.

Enough throat clearing. The winning entries (so far):

The Domestic Winner: Boxing. Several Gabfest listeners suggested that the perfect Clinton-Obama metaphor was a 15-round heavyweight bout that ends with several knockdowns but no clear winner. Some referred specifically to the famous Ali vs. Frazier matches, with Obama mapping to the faster, graceful Ali, and Clinton to the indestructible gladiator Frazier. Like any good title bout, this election season has had moments when one or the other combatant seems to have won. (Hillary wins New Hampshire. Down goes Ali!) But just when you think a conclusion might be near, the other slugger is on the canvas. (Obama wins Wisconsin. Down goes Frazier!) Rounding out the metaphors, with no clear winner, the final decision is put in the hands of shadowy judges (superdelegates), who, despite their air of impartiality, are nevertheless influenced by the crowd's roar.

Metaphors related to Olympic figure skating and gymnastics were close runners-up. The role of the judges nicely matched the role of the superdelegates, and we liked listener Drexel Kebler's observation that the election, like Olympic gymnastics, is something "people only care about … every four years."

The Global Winner: Cricket. A match includes several rounds and goes on forever, and the team that seems to be ahead can nevertheless be declared the loser at the end. One e-mailer saw parallels between Obama-Clinton and the former colony teams that battle endlessly with teams representing the former countries of empire. Also, everyone is keenly interested, but no one can explain what's going on.

Fictional Winner: Quiddich from the Harry Potter novels. Its rules are opaque to most outside Hogwarts and many within it. Teams fly around on their broomsticks, scoring 10 points for making a "basket" by putting the quaffle through the hoop (winning a state). At the same time, 150 points is awarded for catching the snitch, a tiny gold ball that buzzes around elusively (like the superdelegates). A Seeker is the only player on each team who can catch the snitch. Obama, a first-year seeker like Harry himself, is likely in the house of Gryffindor. Hillary is from Ravenclaw, the smart, hard-working, teensy bit dull house. While everyone zooms around on their brooms, two enchanted balls (the press) fly around trying to knock them all off.

Wrestling's Royal Rumble also offered another strong entry in the fictional category, but it seemed to us more fantastical than the Harry Potter analogy.

Board-Game Winner: Monopoly. Player 1 (Obama) holds virtually all the properties, railroads, and money. But Player 2 (Clinton) has Boardwalk and Park Place, with a tony little neighborhood of hotels and houses. Player 1 consistently amasses money, bit by bit, from Player 2 but can't close the deal because he lands on Boardwalk or Park Place every three or four times around the board, thus prolonging the agony. "The other four players who started the game but went bankrupt four hours ago," explains e-mailer Daniel Fiore, "lie on the couch yelling, 'Come on, end it already!' "