- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

Charles Barkley is the politically incorrect quipster with a gubernatorial itch.

He has been on both sides of the political aisle, although now he fancies himself to be a blue-state type with a populist’s pitch.

He is not the first to take up the cause of the little people and bemoan the dysfunctional public school system of a particular locale, in this case Alabama.

His concern is well-founded, if not well-worn. He offers no genuine reform measures at this time, just tough words, which are not intended to inspire confidence.

His new party affiliation could neutralize his name recognition if anyone bothers to connect the dots. His party, after all, already presides over many of the under performing public school systems in urban America.

“I was a Republican until they lost their minds,” Barkley said recently.

He is entitled to a scorched-earth opinion or three, usually expressed as an NBA analyst on TNT.

He has become something of a cult hero in that forum, along with Ernie Johnson and Kenny “The Jet” Smith. The trio’s discourse is often entertaining, with Barkley in charge of provoking the masses.

Barkley can be funny and jarring all at the same time. He mixes a plain-spoken frankness with a seething clarity that spares few of his NBA brethren. His style works in the superlative-driven world of sports, in which an athlete can be deemed great or lousy in the span of a breath.

His style would be out of bounds in the world of state budgets, hardly conducive to consensus building. His political opponents are not apt to grant him the free pass he is afforded in the NBA subculture, which is: That’s Charles being Charles.

We already have seen Barkley’s ilk in a governor’s mansion, with modest effect.

Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler, was swept into office in Minnesota partly because of his caustic manner. His shoot-from-the-lip manner also led to his ouster.

Barkley’s empathy is a long way from being tested, if ever.

Even the well-intentioned discover the limitations of their campaign rhetoric once they assimilate the cold reality of the numbers.

Barkley employs the obligatory class warfare lines, as he ruminates over the disparity between the haves and have-nots. The trickle-down effect of the haves apparently is lost on him, as it sometimes is with the anti-corporation wing of the left.

Barkley speaks to the power of an education as both a parent and one whose education came primarily inside the basketball arenas of America.

His twin passions today are gambling and golf, two self-indulgent pursuits of the wealthy.

As a politician, Barkley would be a don’t-do-as-I-do, do-as-I say candidate, as he would be candid enough to admit. We only know about his gambling activities because he felt compelled to admit it.

He is full of foibles, as he readily has conceded over the years. He has made plenty of mistakes and no doubt learned a lesson or two from them.

His ascent as one of the guardians of the game came about only after he repeatedly butted heads with the NBA’s behavior police.

The capacity to grow will be useful if he decides to enter politics, which is as competitive as the NBA and increasingly nastier.

Barkley professes to have answers, not unlike all politicians in America. His sound bites play well, as they always have.

Yet a good sound bite is distinct from good policy-making.

Anyone can talk a good game in America.

That is the easy part. Implementing genuine reforms behind closed doors is the hard part.

Barkley is too much the maverick to be a team player in Alabama politics.

Or so it would seem.

Barkley is accustomed to inducing chuckles or groans with a one-liner.

Being glib will be his principal political qualification.

If Barkley does decide to run in a few years, it will be up to the voters of Alabama to decide if glibness translates into a better way of life.

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