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Yes, He Can: Obama, Nixon & Duckpin Bowling

In the annals of presidential flip-flops, Barack Obama's bold promise to junk the White House bowling alley, followed mere weeks later by his decision to keep Dick Nixon's pride and joy, may not quite match "Read my lips: No new taxes," but it is nonetheless a sad commentary on the nature of the presidency.

It's probably no coincidence that Obama's dissing of the White House lane began soon after he bowled his infamous 37, winning eternal sympathy from those of us who have an enduring relationship with gutter balls.

"I have sworn that we're taking out the bowling alley in the White House and we're putting in a basketball court," candidate Obama said during a visit to Indiana's hoops hall of fame.

But president-elect Obama is singing a different tune, telling ABC television that he's going to keep the bowling lane. And the bowling industry is all aflutter with proposals to spruce up the White House facility to make it more attractive to the new president.


So Obama has been pressured into keeping a piece of White House history that he obviously has zero intention of using. Odds are that even if the bowling industry scores a strike with its remake of the lane, Obama will not be bowling alone or with friends. Let the man put in a basketball court, for hoopness sake!

But if White House bowling is somehow a sacrosanct piece of the national passion to rehabilitate Richard Nixon, then at least let the new bowling alley be one that reflects the new president's stated desire to connect with the Washington area--yes, make the White House bowling lane a duck-pin alley. The variation on the sport was born up the road in Baltimore, but that's close enough, and to the extent that duckpin has thrived, it has very much been in the Washington area.

Come on, Mr. Change--do something bold and different. Do the duckpin. (They even have gutter bumpers, should the need arise.)

By Marc Fisher |  December 31, 2008; 8:55 AM ET
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Undoubtedly, just a slip of the pen, but it was George H.W. Bush, not Richard Nixon, who uttered, "Read my lips. No new taxes." Richard Nixon, of course, notoriously said, "If the president does it, it's not illegal."

Posted by: edallan | January 1, 2009 11:19 AM

Indeed, the link above takes you to the first President Bush's original comment about new taxes. Nixon never said anything of the sort.

Posted by: Fisher-TWP | January 2, 2009 10:58 AM

Reader Howard Rosenberg questions the oft-reported notion that duckpin bowling began in Baltimore. In his book, "Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters: Baseball's Fun Age of Rule Bending," Rosenberg cites newspaper references to duckpin in New England well predating the purported birthdate of the sport in Baltimore.

For example, he writes, on May 25, 1894, the Lowell Sun in Massachusetts
printed a comment from veteran bowler Jim McLaughlin. McLaughlin spoke fondly of bowling with pins that had a candle shape, which he said had been the leading form of bowling in Lowell 30 years earlier:

"Why, we would no more think of using big pins, such as we now use, with big balls than to use big balls in the duck pin tournament. `Greenies’ from the country would use the combination, but bowlers would use candle pins. I believe in cutting down the size of the [standard big] pins, to half way between the present size and duck pins." (Lowell [Mass.] Sun, May 25, 1894.)

Posted by: Marc Fisher | January 2, 2009 7:23 PM

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