Obama vs. Boehner

By Steve Rushin Illustrations by Gluekit
May 08, 2011

In golf, a wedge issue means just that: You can't hit your sand wedge, or your lob wedge needs to be regrooved. In politics, a wedge issue is more serious still: It's one that splits the electorate, dividing voters along ideological fault lines. Strangely, the two definitions are now blurring in 21st-century American life, where golf has joined healthcare and same-sex marriage as a hot-button political wedge issue.

True, Americans have long complained that their president plays golf. Eisenhower's campaign slogan might well have been I Like Spikes, so frequently did he wear them, playing 800 rounds in eight years in office, far too many for some critics. When Ike invoked executive privilege to keep his golf scores a state secret, Golf Digest printed buttons that read: Don't Ask What I Shot.

With the greater reach of global media came even greater need for golf discretion. President George W. Bush took a break from the game in 2003, largely for the sake of appearances. "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," he said. "I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

And though no one argues that presidents aren't entitled to down time, it is now more difficult than ever for prominent politicians to flaunt a love of golf, which is why government golf enthusiasts--the hard-core who think Reagan National is a new Pete Dye course--have been driven underground by a leisure pursuit some-times seen as too ... leisurely. Chopping wood? Good. Swinging woods? Bad.

President Obama is well aware of this perception, stressing his love of pickup basketball while quietly playing more than 60 rounds of golf in office, many of them on Saturdays at Andrews Air Force Base. Speaker of the House John Boehner, a member of two clubs, was the subject of a golf-themed attack ad in the 2010 election. "For those who want an out-of-touch pro golfer for a Congressman," went the ominous narration, "there's John Boehner."

All of which is to applaud the Democratic president for publicly inviting the Republican speaker to play a round of golf, and to applaud the Republican speaker for accepting the invitation of the Democratic president. "I'm sure I'll have to give him strokes," Boehner said of Obama, and he probably will. Boehner's handicap has been reported anywhere from 5 to 8, Obama's from 16 to 24. Exact figures are hard to obtain under the Don't Ask What I Shot doctrine, but we pulled it off (see complete ranking of Washington's Top 150 Golfers


The only trouble with this particular round is that it hasn't actually happened, and might never come to pass, for all the aforementioned reasons. And so we'd like to kick off a campaign encouraging the president and speaker to play a round for the sake of the country. Toss caution--and a few blades of tee-box grass--to the wind. Forget the critics. There is no better way to bring these two parties together--and their two parties together--than to have O&B go O.B. at the nearest goat track, at the earliest opportunity.

The pair can't possibly spend four hours keeping score, conceding putts, complimenting drives, filling divots, retrieving pond balls, foraging for Pro V1s and springing for Kit Kats off the snack cart without finding greater common ground. Imagine the two most powerful elected officials in America riding out a long downpour in a rain shelter. Politics, they say, makes strange shedfellows.

Or they will say, after this round.

So tee it up, Misters President and Speaker. You've nothing to fear but Fore! itself. You and the nation will benefit from the healing balm of that great leveler, the locker room, with its Bay Rum and Barbicide, the audacity of soap. America has already witnessed a Beer Summit. Yours could be the Arnold Palmer Summit, as you rehash the round over iced tea and lemonade, in a place where the question of the day was not red state or blue state, but white tees or gold.