Monday, April 06, 2009

It's not how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose

In my limited experience, I know of no country more obsessed with sports than the United States. From high school to college to professional sports, more time, money, and attention is paid to sports in America than anything else. In Canada, my nation is all about hockey, with a little curling, figure skating, and football thrown in. In America, there's football, basketball, baseball, golf, hockey, soccer, auto racing, horse racing, and the Olympics. A small town in mid-state Indiana goes batshit nuts because a local high school baseball team made the state championships. A larger town in North Carolina goes batshit nuts because a local college basketball team made the Final Four. A city in Pennsylvania goes batshit nuts because a local pro football franchise won the Superbowl. This is more than just the "I wear my team's ballcap" level of fandom. This is the "I live and die with my boys" level. This is the "I am this close to starting a riot" level, and while we certainly do see riots happening with soccer fans around the world, the difference here is that sports fans in America span all age groups, and their passion does not wane.

This helps to explain why, in American politics, the focus is always about winners and losers. When you have a two-party system, it becomes natural to think of the other party as the other 'team', the enemy that must be defeated at all costs. Republicans are focused on beating the Democrats. The Democrats - when they are able to focus - are focused on beating the Republicans. You don't often hear about what's good for the country, what's good for the people. If one side proposes something, the other side will find a dozen things wrong with it, but their motivation is not altruistic. Their motivation - always, always, always - is to beat the other guy. Doesn't matter how, doesn't matter what you have to do, because the win is everything. Since war is also easily defined as having a winner and a loser, war's terminology and ideology is co-opted in the desire to win, win, win.

During the election, Barack Obama talked about bi-partisanship. To the other side, 'bi-partisanship' is another word for 'surrender', and there is little doubt that Obama was aware of this, so it was just another thing he could use to help himself win. After the election, Obama reached out to the Republican party to try and get them involved, and of course his attempts were furiously rebuffed. Again, I'm sure Obama knew this would happen, but his aim was to make the Republicans look like dicks - which it did - thus increasing his own popularity. At the same time, the Republicans are doing everything within their power to undermine the President and the Democrats.

Now I ask you: is that really good for the country? Is that really the best that democracy has to offer? Two sides at each other's throats without end? No attempt to reconcile, to find common ground, to work together to find the best path forward? Of course not. But the system as it stands now is set up for nothing else. There must be a winner and a loser. There can be no ties. If you are the winner, you must continue to crush the loser without mercy. If you are the loser, you must be the sorest loser in the history of man. What turned the tide for Obama last year was the vague impression that he might actually be above all this petty bullshit, that he might stand for something greater. The jury is still out on that, but I want to hope. I need to hope. Because in this system, there are no true winners except those who already have power and wealth, and they virtually never lose.

It doesn't matter how you play the game if the game is rigged.