Stumbling out of the gate

中国日报网 2012-12-21 11:26



Stumbling out of the gate

Reader question:

Please explain this headline: Obama stumbles out of the gate (, May 25, 2012).

My comments:

Obama stumbles out of the gate. What gate, you ask?

Not Watergate or another gate of that nature, for sure.

In other words, nothing scandalous here. Obama just struggled a bit, suffering some setback. Initially.

To stumble, you see, is to put your foot down awkwardly (after hitting the curb on the sidewalk, for instance) while you are walking, so that you almost fall.

Yes, but out of the gate? What gate?

The gate refers to the starting gate in a horse race. At the starting line of a horse race, all the participating horses are lined up behind a gate. When the starting signal is given, the gate opens and the horses are let out to run. The race thus commences.

Sometimes some horses will stumble, hitting their own feet, for instance and fall. Indeed some horses fall while others hit the floor running, i.e. running up to speed, smoothly and without hindrance.

Apparently, those who stumble or tumble at the starting gate have a hard time to recover – indeed few are able to catch up with the rest of horses again – hence, to stumble out of the gate is a big mistake to make.

In fact, it’s a debacle. It’s a huge setback at the beginning of a race or any other venture or adventure. We all know about the feel good factor. All is well that begins well, as they say. Well, you know what I mean. When we begin well, we feel good about ourselves as well as our chances and hence become more confident as we go on. If we fail to perform in the very beginning, however, we often begin to despair, have questions and doubts. We get down on ourselves and say: Maybe this is not for me or perhaps it’s not my day today.

Or things like that.

Anyways, to say that Obama stumbles out of the gate is to notice the mistakes he made or the setbacks he suffers at the early stage of the election, or rather reelection, campaign. In other words, things did not work out for him initially.

Fortunately for Obama, he did not quit. In fact, he had resolve and found the wherewithal to not only get back into the race (for the White House) and win a second term.

Still, to sum up, stumbling out of the gate is a situation to avoid. Instead one should try to be the first out of the gate and hit the floor running.

Alright, you ask one question and get to learn two more phrases in the process. Will that be killing three birds with one throw?

I think it is a good bargain for you.

Here are media examples:

1. The fallout from Mitt Romney’s poorly received interview Tuesday with Fox News’ Bret Baier keeps coming, with Baier revealing Wednesday night that Romney complained after the taping that his questions had been “overly aggressive” and “uncalled for.” Now conservatives, who hardly seemed impressed with Romney’s performance in the interview to begin with, are openly mocking the GOP candidate for being thin-skinned.

The interview was most notable for Romney’s petulance. Baier asked him a series of questions about his various flip-flops, noting that “your critics charge that you make decisions based on political expediency and not core conviction,” and Romney responded with evident annoyance, pretending that he’d only ever changed his position on abortion and telling Baier, “I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve said this, too. This is an unusual interview.”

It was a baffling performance. Romney rarely agrees to extended, on-camera interviews and had to expect that his assorted changes of heart — on abortion, on gay rights, on immigration, and so on — would feature prominently in the conversation. As one conservative commentator put it, “Actually, if there’s any criticism to be made of Baier’s questioning, I think that’s it — not that the questions were ‘uncalled for’ but that they were a little too called for because they cut right to the heart of conservatives’ concerns about Romney.” By handling the interview the way he did — and by making it a bigger story by complaining to Baier — Romney has succeeded in bolstering the right’s doubts about him, not defusing them.

The bigger problem for Romney is that this comes just as the political world seems to be deciding that he really is in danger of losing the Republican nomination to Newt Gingrich, who is poised to open significant leads in national and key early state polls.

In that sense, the Baier interview calls to mind Ted Kennedy’s fateful sit-down with CBS newsman Roger Mudd in November 1979. Kennedy was set to launch his Democratic primary challenge to Jimmy Carter (although he hadn’t formally announced it yet) and agreed to an extended interview that would air in a prime-time CBS News special. At the time, Kennedy’s prospects for victory seemed strong; polls showed him leading Carter, whose own job approval numbers were perilously low and whose presidency had infuriated many of the traditional component groups of the Democratic coalition. Like Romney this week, Kennedy was asked a seemingly elementary question that he surely should have seen coming: “Why do you want to be president?” His hesitant, rambling, and confusing response remains famous all these years later.

The impression that this created was devastating for Kennedy, whose campaign essentially peaked before it began. By the end of 1979, he was running well behind Carter (although the rally-around-the-flag effect created by the November 1979 storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran had a lot to do with this too) and it wasn’t until well into the primary season that Kennedy finally found his footing. But by that point, Carter had built a commanding delegate advantage. In the summer of 1980, polls once again showed that Democrats preferred Kennedy to Carter as their general election candidate, but a desperate Kennedy effort to change the convention rules and free pledged delegates from their commitments failed, guaranteeing an easy first-ballot victory for Carter. In other words, if he hadn’t stumbled out of the gate so badly, Kennedy probably could have defeated Carter.

- Is Mitt’s Fox debacle his Roger Mudd moment?, December 1, 2011.

2. As Facebook’s stock continues to slide, amid what appears to be growing skepticism about its future revenue prospects, there has been a consistent drumbeat of opinion around a single thought: Should Mark Zuckerberg be replaced as chief executive officer of the company he created? Some critics of the company — not just of its IPO, but of its advertising model and mobile strategy as well — seem to believe that Zuckerberg is “in over his hoodie,” as one popular phrase puts it. Silicon Valley (where Facebook was raised, if not actually born) has a reverence for the founder-as-CEO, at least in part because of transformational stories like the rise of Steve Jobs at Apple. But is it always best to have a founder running a gigantic public company? Or does the founder mystique contain just as much potential for disaster as it does for success?

Given the kind of hopes and dreams — in many cases, vastly over-inflated ones — that were riding on Facebook’s initial public offering, it’s probably not surprising that the company and its young CEO would be getting a storm of criticism after the fact. Based in part on its massive valuation in private markets such as SecondMarket, Facebook was expected to go public with a market value of $100 billion or more, and many were hoping it would climb skyward from there. How could it not, with close to a billion users, and engagement rates that are off the charts?

As it turned out, of course, that $100 billion was a pie-in-the-sky target, and Facebook stumbled out of the gate and has been falling ever since — at less than $20, the shares are almost 50 percent lower than they were when the company first went public. The skepticism dial was turned up even further when the company came out with its first quarterly report as a public entity, and many analysts saw a less-than-encouraging picture: a company with problems in mobile — which everyone seems to agree is the future of content — and some underwhelming estimates about future performance.

Within days of the earnings report, there were calls for Zuckerberg to step aside: one of the first came from Reuters blogger John Abell, who wrote a post stating: “Facebook needs a new CEO”. Abell said that Zuckerberg might be a visionary, but that’s not what Facebook needs right now:

“He needs to get out of the way –- not because we can judge him a disaster based on a single’s earnings period, but because he isn’t playing to his strength... Facebook needs its spiritual leader and chief innovator in a hoodie. But it doesn’t need him as CEO, placating investors in a collared shirt. There are plenty of people who could manage the Facebook business.”

- Mark Zuckerberg and the founder-as-CEO problem,, August 30, 2012.

3. Arsene Wenger has an impending decision to make regarding Theo Walcott’s future with Arsenal, and it is time for the long-time manager to send his talented winger away from London.

The Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew quoted Wenger discussing Walcott’s ongoing contract negotiation, and the French manager said, “There is urgency. How much, I don’t know. But there is urgency. We want to sort it out before Christmas, one way or the other.”

At first glance, risking Walcott’s exit does not seem to be smart strategy for the Gunners. The team has stumbled out of the gate in the Premier League and is currently sixth in the table with 15 points from 10 matches.

The attack has not been impressive or consistent, managing to find the back of the net only 15 times in league matches. Walcott has started just one league game, despite being the team’s leading scorer with seven goals in all competitions.

While Wenger appears to have a source of untapped attacking potential, Walcott is a known commodity. He is not a dominant player, regardless of whether he plays as a winger or in a centre-forward role, which he prefers.

Three of his seven goals come in a 7-5 victory over Reading in a League Cup fixture that turned out to be one of the strangest matches in the team’s recent history. Without this hat trick skewing his statistics, Walcott’s goal-scoring record is much more ordinary.

This is why Wenger has preferred to use him as part of a rotating cast of attacking players instead of making him a fixture in the starting 11. Ultimately, Walcott is a fine player who certainly has the talent to have a long, productive career, but he will never be a star.

However, he rejected a five-year, £75,000-a-week contract this summer, and is reportedly waiting for regular playing time atop the Arsenal formation before deciding whether or not he will re-sign with the Gunners, according to the BBC's David Ornstein.

These negotiations are causing an unnecessary amount of drama, and the Gunners are better off letting Walcott walk and replacing him with another young and talented player.

- Arsenal Transfer News: Gunners Should Let Go of Theo Walcott in January,, November 5, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Square pegs?

Turn the page?

End game?

He said, she said

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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