This week the 2012 Summer Olympics are concluding, and the 2012 NFL Pre-season is kicking off. A sports fan’s paradise. So it’s not surprising that a sports analogy popped into my head as a great way of describing the nature of the game in America’s political stadium, especially during an election year.
Every 4 years control of the White House, and every 2 years control of the U.S. House & Senate, come before a vote that possibly leads to a transfer of control from one political party to the other.
Let’s compare and contrast this exchange of control using two different sports: An Olympic relay race, and an American football game. I think you’ll agree this analogy helps underscore why political campaigns are so intense, and why advocates and voters have such conflicting visions about who should win. Here we go…
If there were a homogeneous “We The People” in America, then transfer of control of the White House or the Legislature would be similar to a passing of the baton in a relay race. The new baton carrier would take the baton and sprint with new energy TOWARDS THE SAME GOAL as the previous carrier. Though each carrier would have somewhat different characteristics, all the carriers would have the same goal. So there would be no battle for the baton, and no need to argue about who the next baton carrier should be.
But Americans are NOT a homogeneous “We The People.”
Unconstrained-style thinkers want bigger government and less individual liberty, while constrained-style thinkers want limited government and more individual liberty.
And so the transfer of control of the White House and the Legislative Houses is really more like a turnover in an NFL football game. The teams exchange offensive and defensive roles, and the new ball carriers begin trying to advance the ball IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION as the previous team. The ideological goalposts of the two teams lie in opposite directions.
On offense, each team tries to push back the other team to re-take territory that had been lost, and tries to hold control of the ball long enough to accomplish their goal, which is located in the opposite direction from the other team’s goal. That’s why possession of the ball is fought for so intensely.
Another similarity between football and politics is the willingness of the teams to sometimes risk turning the ball over by throwing a long pass such as the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) in 1983, and the Affordable Care Act (“Obama Care”) in 2010. They figure the pass is thrown so far downfield that even if there’s a turnover, they can go on defense and aggressively hold the ground they just gained from the long pass. They’ll dig in to try to hold as much of that ground as they can until they get possession back. They’re willing to risk a temporary setback – a.k.a. loss of seats in the Legislature…perhaps even loss of control of the House or Senate — in order to hopefully accelerate their agenda down the field towards their goalpost.
In America’s modern political stadium, if your party doesn’t possess control of the policy-making entities of government, the other team has no allegiance to your ideological goals, and only wants to take the ball in the opposite direction as you want.
As a result, it is very difficult for the two political parties to find common ground on which to build a broad and lasting compromise. Obviously this is very frustrating to most Americans today, as measured by the Congressional Job Approval polling data at RealClearPolitics.com. Today 76% of Americans disapprove of Congress’ performance while only 17% approve. And believe it or not, that’s an improvement from January 2012 when 84% disapproved and only 13% approved.
No wonder sports fans are turning to their favorite athletes and sports teams during the last couple weeks of summer vacation, for a welcome distraction from such a depressing political situation.
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Questions: How do YOU view the battles that take place for control of the U.S. political arena? What could be done to make room for more common ground?
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Note: I have taken care to write this particular article in an even-handed manner. Before ending it, I feel I must point out that I am not suggesting that Star Wars and Obama Care are morally equivalent examples of partisan overreach. One could argue, though, that they are politically equivalent because they were nearly equally criticized by the opposing team.