I am not here to join the pack making the obvious point that President Obama’s shot on “WWE Tribute to the Troops,” Saturday night on NBC, is both an embarrassing affair of state and an immensely stupid political move.
I am here, rather, to get you to join me in full-tilt holiday mirth. This particular Obama pratfall does not call for a chuckle or a guffaw. Give it a gigantic belly laugh.
For it seems that our Nobel Laureate-in-Chief has fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book: what I call the McMahon family’s Geraldine Ferraro Statue of Liberty Play. Without further ado, let’s get to today’s history lesson.
The White House is trying to soften the context of Obama’s “Tribute to the Troops” remarks. A spokesman said the segment was not taped exclusively for the wrestling promotion whose profits have given license to its former CEO, Linda McMahon, to spend up to $50 million on her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.
Backpedaling like a basketball point guard charged with fast-break containment, the president’s line is that he recorded a general season’s greetings to the American troops in Asia, which were intended for use by any media outlet that wanted it. But whatever the original intent, WWE snapped it up and edited it into its NBC show – in the process, laying claim to the White House imprimatur for its brand.
(And Linda, none too subtly, gets the rub. Note the emphasis in WWE tub-thumping on its support of literacy programs, one of the do-gooder line items in the candidate’s ever-evolving curriculum vitae.)
Now, let’s rewind the tape to December 1984.
It was the year of the “rock and wrestling connection,” as pop star Cyndi Lauper crossed over for an extended shtick with what was then called the World Wrestling Federation. Lauper’s video of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – starring the guiding light and manager of tag-team champions, the late great Captain Lou Albano – had become an early anthem of MTV. She was named one of Ms. magazine’s women of the year. Another awardee was Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, fresh from her experience as Walter Mondale’s failed vice presidential running mate.
At the Ms. awards banquet, a WWF TV recording crew was on board. Captain Lou and Hulk Hogan were there, too.
A producer stuck a microphone in front of Gloria Steinem, the founding editor of Ms., and asked her to recite the words, “Rowdy Roddy Piper, I don’t think much of a man who wears a skirt.” Steinem dutifully complied. Not being familiar with Steinem’s viewing habits, I have no idea whether she knew that Roddy Piper was Hulk Hogan’s No. 1 antagonist of the season, and that one of the ways Piper “drew heat” was to enter the ring clad in Scottish kilts. The ringside hecklers called the kilts a “skirt.”
Next, the producer turned to Geraldine Ferraro and fed her this line: “Why don’t you fight like a man, Piper?” Well, whatever, Ferraro must have thought.
Two months later Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper met at Madison Square Garden in the “War to Settle the Score.” The show aired live on MTV and drew record ratings. At the beginning of the broadcast, a montage of celebrities including Andy Warhol (who, uniquely, may actually have been in the building that night) spoke on camera, creating the illusion that the “wrestling resurgence” that was then the rage of the tongue-in-chic crowd reached all the way to the Upper East Side.
Steinem’s and Ferraro’s clips from the Ms. banquet night were part of the montage. The gossip columnists clucked. The very unvicepresidential-looking Ferraro was aghast. She told the gossip columnists she’d been duped.
Apparently, something similar has happened to the president of the United States. P.T. Barnum, Linda McMahon’s forebear in Connecticut chicanery, was supposed to have said that there’s a sucker born every minute. What Obama has proven is that, even for those so born, in this great country anyone can still some day find himself occupying the Oval Office.