On politics, peanut butter sandwiches and the cardinal sin of pickup basketball

It is now, without a doubt, election season, that ridiculous, messy, and chaotic daily churn of news, and polls, and soundbites, and punditry—sometimes honest, sometimes not.

It’s broad and sweeping—and sometimes hard to ignore. I’ve spent the last week on the road, the last four days on vacation from work, and this has given me some time to sort through some of the noise and focus on the utterly preposterous. The truly egregious. The most insanely incendiary thoughts I’ve heard during this presidential campaign.

So here they are. One: Mitt Romney says his “guity pleasure” is “peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk”. Two: Barack Obama reportedly takes charges in pickup basketball games. (Yep. These scandals run deep.)

***

So let’s start here:

Romney’s comments came while he and his wife Ann were appearing on the talk show “Live with Kelly and Michael” on some network channel. (Before this interview, I had no idea that “Kelly and Michael” was even a thing. Michael Strahan has seemingly replaced Regis Philbin? So, last time I checked that’s two former New York Giants* that have dabbled in morning talk shows. What’s next? “Good Morning Umenyiora?”)

*This didn’t work out.

So after a long and awkward interview, Ripa and Strahan delved into a rapid fire segment with some “oh-so-personal” questions. These were the type of questions you generally heard when you took part in the those “Ice Breaker” activities at 10th-grade summer camp.

“What’s your favorite junk food? What actor would play you in a movie? What do you wear to bed?”

The last question drew some attention to the interview when Romney answered “As little as possible” — or something like that. Meh. Seemed like a rather reasonable answer to me.

There was, however, one answer that was definitely worthy of some scrutiny. The type of scrutiny generally regarded for M. Night Shyamalan and Hipster Runoff jokes about Win Butler. When Ripa and Strahan asked the Romneys to please reveal their guilty pleasures, Ann answered first.

“Donuts,” she said.

Her husband then followed.

“Uh, Peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk,” Romney said quickly, sounding a little like a cross between a Cleaver son and Scott Smalls at the beginning of “The Sandlot.”

Wait, peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk? Are you serious? That’s not a guilty pleasure, that’s a post-5K refueling suggestion from every single issue of “Runner’s World”; that’s one half of the most American of sandwiches; that’s 500 calories of smooth (or crunchy) goodness. That’s not a guilty pleasure, that’s just pure pleasure, Mitt.

So, yes, if Mr. Romney truly considers peanut butter sandwiches to be living on the wild side, then every third grader in the country needs to promptly be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security.

*Let me check that lunchbox, Jimmy. Oh, look here, granola bars and yogurt—made with whole milk! This belong to you, son?

***

Of course, laying the smack down on the Skippy is one thing. But President Obama also does something that, to me at least, is a certifiable reason for just as much scorn.

According to this NPR interview with writer Michael Lewis, who crafted an excellent profile of Obama for Vanity Fair, the president is the type of guy who takes charges in pickup basketball. Hey, listen: We all know the president likes to hoop. Baller-in-Chief. Brother-in-law coaches at Oregon State. Pickup games with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a collection of former college players. It’s a well-told story. And Lewis adds another layer to the narrative, casting the president as a smart and heady player. The type of player that plays strong team defense, always makes the right pass, directs traffic and fills a role. And most importantly, the type of player that will get after a teammate if they take a bad shot*.

*If you play with the president, you Do. Not. Chuck.

But if Lewis is accurate, and the president actually attempts to take charges while playing pick-up basketball, well … that’s just unfortunate. Let’s be clear: This is not some war against the charge; not some ill-conceived argument from somebody who detests NBA flopping or doesn’t quite understand the vagaries of the charge-block conundrum.

This is a former slow-footed, 5-foot-10 shooting guard who led his high school team in three categories: Three-point attempts, fouls and charges taken. This is a former scrub who believes flopping* gets a bad rep; who appreciated the work of Jon Scheyer and Tyrel Reed, two card-carrying members of the charge brotherhood.

*Taking charges is a craft. If a short, unathletic guard slides in front of a genetically superior swingman and tries to coax the official into blowing his whistle \—that’s not flopping; that’s basketball IQ.

But taking a charge in a pickup game, a free-throwing pickup game with no officials, no uniforms, no game clock? That’s crossing the line—a very important line. That’s an unwarranted act of aggression. That’s not “Leading from behind.” Or the front. Or the side. That’s “Leading from… dude, you’re taking this pickup game WAY TOO SERIOUSLY.”

There’s a simple answer to this. If a ballhandler drives into the lane, and you find yourself sliding over to play help defense, you hold your ground, stand tall… and then quickly torque your body to the side so they glance off you as you attempt to contest the shot. That’s unwritten pickup rules, the true laws of the game, the way everybody should play. Sincerely.

From the president… to the third graders enjoying peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk after the two-hour open gym.

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