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The Blowhard in the Bleachers

We’ve all been there. A local football game—or basketball, or soccer, or any other sport. A crowd of friends and neighbors gathers, swaps greetings, settles in to cheer the home team. But as soon as the whistle blows and the ball is in play, we hear him. The blowhard. The guy who knows it all. The guy endowed with infallible judgment and a voice even bigger than his ego.

He blares his play-by-play, lobs his grenades. He savages the coach, the quarterback, the point guard, the goalie, the ref. Howls with derision at every bobbled grounder, every shanked punt. Everybody on our team is stupid, incompetent, and lazy. When our guys prevail, we got lucky, fumbled our way to a win. When the other team scores, it’s because we are weak. We are doomed. Fire the coach. Bench the players. All is lost, unless we put the blowhard in charge.

If you’ve actually played the game—if you’ve ever been out there taking the body shots, facing a full-court press, or losing a towering fly ball in the sun—you shrug him off, tune him out. Because you know he doesn’t have a clue.

But if you don’t know the game, doubt slithers in. What if the blowhard is right? What if our team is a rabble of deadbeats and losers? After all, no one's standing up to the guy. No one shuts him down. Doesn’t that mean that the loudmouth has a point?

The coach prowls the sidelines, ignoring the taunts. The blowhard yells louder and louder. Around us, people grow edgy, uncertain. Surely the blowhard is right. Surely we’d win every game, and run up the score, if we gave him the whistle, the headset, the ball. After all, he’s made a killing in real estate. He has a beach house, drives a fancy car. Clearly, he’s learned how to win. And what does the coach have? Not much. A slouchy old ranch house and a rusted-out truck. What a loser.

As writers and journalists, we’ve been trained to resist choosing sides. We try not to skew our account of the game. But the blowhard in the bleachers isn’t loyal to anyone’s team but his own. He may claim a team’s colors, but only if there’s money in it, or a megaphone.

In a presidential election, the game is for keeps. We can’t afford neutrality, with demagogues and bullies. We have a duty to stand and speak, to take on the blowhard in the bleachers. Call him on his brags, his crazy claims, his spurious attacks and outright lies. Restore some reason, and reassure our anxious friends and neighbors in the crowd. Help them decipher the game as it’s played on the field, not as it’s hawked up and spat from the mouth of a boor. If a writer can’t do that, who can?

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