By MARSHA MERCER
Before the Obamas decamped to Martha’s Vineyard last weekend on vacation, President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address:
“Every four years, our nation’s attention turns to a competition that’s as heated as it is historic. People pack arenas and wave flags. Journalists judge every move and overanalyze every misstep. Sometimes we’re let down, but more often we’re lifted up. And just when we think we’ve seen it all, we see something happen in a race that we’ve never seen before.
“I’m talking, of course,” Obama said, “about the Summer Olympics.”
Good one. And he was right. The Olympics, unlike that other quadrennial contest, haven’t let us down.
The Rio games are historic, dramatic and fun. We see some of the best American athletes who have ever competed. Their drive, joy and patriotism are infectious.
And don’t forget attitude. Who knew wagging an index finger could say so much?
Swimmer Lilly King, 19, a first-time Olympian, wagged her finger twice to mock Russian competitor Yulia Efimova for doping, after Efimova, 24, who was allowed to compete in Rio at the 11th hour, wagged her finger No. 1 after winning a preliminary heat.
“You wave your finger No. 1 and you’re caught drug cheating? I’m just not a fan,” King said in an interview with NBC.
After she beat the Russian by two-hundredths of a second to win the gold for the 100-meter breaststroke, King said, “It’s incredible, just winning a gold medal and knowing I did it clean.” Take that, Russia.
Then, superstar swimmer Michael Phelps, competing in his fifth Olympics, wagged his finger No. 1 after he won his 20th gold medal and beat his arch rival.
Earlier, Phelps blew up the Internet with his caught-on-camera “death stare” at Chad le Clos of South Africa. Le Clos was dancing and shadow boxing right in front of Phelps in the warm-up room before the 200-meter butterfly competition.
Phelps reclaimed the gold le Clos had won in the 2012 Olympics in London, and le Clos came in fourth in Rio.
Those displays of one-upmanship pale compared to the trash-talking on the campaign trail. This may be the first time a major party presidential nominee has been so willing to set tongues wagging.
We don’t need Gallup to tell us we’d rather see athletes wagging their index fingers than hear the ugly rants of Donald J. Trump or, for that matter, more damaging revelations from Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Trump’s latest flap involving an off-the-cuff remark may have been “a joke gone bad,” as House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’s always sweeping up after the elephant, said. Or it could have been a call to arms to “Second Amendment people” if Hillary Clinton is elected, as Democrats and some Republicans charged.
At the rally in Wilmington, N.C., Trump was talking about what would happen if Clinton were elected: “She wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. And, by the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
When his remarks caused a firestorm, Trump blamed the biased media and insisted he meant Second Amendment supporters should galvanize to defeat Clinton at the polls. Clinton, who does not want to abolish the Second Amendment, accused him of “casual inciting of violence.”
The Chinese water torture of released Clinton emails continues to raise questions about how her work at the State Department intersected with the Clinton Foundation and what roles Bill Clinton would play in the White House and the foundation.
No wonder people have Trump -- and Clinton – fatigue.
So we turn gratefully to the Olympics, continuing through Aug. 21, to cheer Team USA and lift our own spirits. The Olympics are everything the 2016 presidential campaign is not: Team USA’s inspiring performances contrast sharply with Trump’s intemperate remarks and Clinton’s excruciatingly calibrated responses.
Trump is as undisciplined in his speech as the Olympic heroes are disciplined in sport, and Clinton as stiff as the athletes are limber.
The presidential campaign gives us headaches. The Olympics warm our hearts.
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.