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College Football

Don’t Worry, Tommy Tuberville Can Explain This Whole Russia Thing To You

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, seen here deep in thought.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool

It would be a stretch to say that Alabama Senator Coach Tommy Tuberville is good at his job, at least in the ways that Senators would be good at their jobs in a more functional government. As we do not have that kind of government, though, it’s hard to say that he’s doing his job badly. More to the point, Alabama’s junior Senator is doing his job in the only way that Tuberville—a man whose primary talent as a football coach was negotiating industry-leading contract buyouts, and somehow kept getting involved in oafish financial schemes, and a man who generally has The Golf Channel running on an endless loop where other people might have thoughts—ever really promised to do it.

In this bleary dead-in-the-water moment in which the nation is both wholly post-politics and completely subsumed by them, in a state where the Republican nominee more or less cannot help but win statewide elections, in the context of a federal government that currently functions primarily as a grim satire of itself, Coach Tuberville is just doing his job. He shows up to meetings sometimes, and sometimes asks a strange question or two. He talks to rich people from back home on the phone and says “that’s such a good point” whenever they pause for him to do so. He makes the same sounds that his movement’s resident slavering cable news freaks make on TV back to his supporters, and those supporters applaud when he does because they understand that to be their role. He absolutely does not know what he’s talking about on more or less any topic, and lacks the curiosity or motivation to do anything about that, but none of that really impacts his job. Tuberville, like his core constituency, cares mostly about not being inconvenienced, and about making money, and he can communicate that.

He’s an unremarkable man, in short, but Tuberville is as utterly at home among the podgy-smug backslapping golf foofs who are his new peers in the United States Senate as he was in the sunburned fraternity of college football coaches before that. And again, this is more or less all that he needs to do; certainly, no one is expecting him to do much more than look the part and not work too hard. As long as he doesn’t actually vote in a surprising way and shows up every now and then in Alabama to break off the local Chamber of Commerce with some banter and a little of that Fox News karaoke, Tuberville will be doing what his voters sent him to Washington to do.

Earlier this week, at the Montgomery, Ala. Chamber of Commerce, Tuberville did that. There, he regaled the region’s pinkest selection of men with tales of how disgusting Washington, D.C. is—”the circus, I call it, because every day there is something different. And it’s not three rings. It’s about four or five rings of a circus”—and put some coachly folksiness on his party’s talking points. Where those talking points exist, for instance regarding the unbelievable weakness and perfidy of President Sleepy Joe Brandon or the importance of ending COVID-19 without actually doing anything to that end, Tuberville was comfortable. Where his party and the cable news sociopaths that lead it around have not quite figured out their lines yet, Tuberville was in deeper water.

Take, for instance, the new military conflict in Ukraine. It’s complicated, because Ukraine is linked to President Brandon—there was some thing with his kid’s computer, and they were also of course very unfair to President Trump—and because of the unreasoning and instinctive natural bias towards the aggressor on the part of the Republican Party. Eventually, America’s reigning reactionary types will figure out a way to make this about the things that they make everything about—punishing the most-punished, assuming a bold stance next to whichever party seems most powerful, figuring out some way to monetize all of that—and Tuberville will learn his lines. For now, though:

Tuberville discussed the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. He claims that a large part of Vladimir Putin’s desire for further annexation of Ukrainian land is due to the amount of farmland in Ukraine.

“He can’t feed his people,” Tuberville said. “It’s a communist country, so he can’t feed his people, so they need more farmland.”

1819 News

One Alabama news broadcast saw fit to note and contextualize Tuberville’s misapprehension re: literally every single thing happening in Ukraine at this moment. The correction took 37 seconds, and the anchor sounded every bit as exhausted at the end of it as a person can sound.

It’s worth noting that Tuberville is not alone among widely reviled former college football coaches in having missed the collapse of the Soviet Union several decades ago. Former Kansas and Notre Dame sourpuss Charlie Weis broke his legendary silence on politics to make his own impassioned argument against the aggressive actions of what he appears to believe is still the Soviet Union.

To be fair, coaches are beings of singular focus. Legendarily hard-driving leaders like Tuberville and Weis—men who were famously at the facility before 11:00 a.m. nearly every day of the week and often there until after dark except on days when they had other commitments that precluded that—do not busy themselves with “the news” when there is grinding to be done. Make whatever jokes you like about a man who famously lost to Navy weighing in on military matters, or about a famously checked-out Belk Bowl-losing coach being this thunderously unprepared to address the biggest international news story of the moment. Those men will not hear you, because they are busy working. Or, failing that, they are watching TV. For Tuberville, who finally has a job that does not just fit but celebrate his signature combination of principle-free personal mediocrity and voracious cable news appetite, the two are one and the same.