Friday, March 27, 2009

This Ain’t March Madness

There are at least two ways to fill out NCAA Basketball brackets. There’s the predictive way: “Here’s who I THINK is gonna win.” But I don’t know enough about the teams this year to do that. So I filled out my brackets with the second way: “Here’s who I WANT to win.” And I had any number of reasons for choosing each of the teams I chose. I picked Syracuse in the early rounds because I think Orangemen is a funny name. I picked Tennessee because I live in Tennessee. I picked Dayton because my family’s from Ohio. I picked Temple because Bill Cosby went there. I picked the unlikely Cornell over Missouri because I always like to see Ivy League schools excelling in sports. Although my reasons for choosing teams are sometimes silly, by hoping my team succeeds, I am hoping the opposing team fails.

That’s how it works in sports. There are no really legitimate reasons to pick one team over another. I know people who believe with all their hearts that their ongoing rivalry with another team has some cosmic dimension or that there is something inherently evil about a particular team and something inherently virtuous about another, but they delude themselves. Fortunately it’s all in fun. It’s just basketball.

Unfortunately, too many people play politics the same way. Problem is the issues are deeper and more complicated, the stakes are much higher, so it’s understandable that folks would attach much significance to their preferred stance. These are not necessarily silly choices like my NCAA picks. But there’s another difference here: Governance is not primarily about choosing sides. It’s not a game!

And yet people get so devoted to their ideological team (party) and to demonizing-- or hoping for the failure of --the other team, that they forget what it means to win in government. They’ve convinced themselves that winning means that their own views prevail (I win, you lose—or vice versa). But the only win in government is when the govern-ers (elected or otherwise) succeed at making America a better place, either by what they do or by what they refrain from doing. If they fail, we all fail. If we cheer their failure, we are cheering for America’s failure.

Maybe political campaigns are a game. But this Presidential campaign is over. Somebody’s gotta be governing and not just gearing up for the next campaign, and I guess the next campaign is what all this hoping for failure is about.

This rhetoric is not necessarily about wanting this particular President to fail; it is perhaps more about NOT wanting him to succeed. But who loses if he succeeds? Not his supporters, not the nation, not even his detractors. Who wins if this President and his policies fail? No-one--except that narrow sliver of people who opposed him and will run for office soon. No wonder they hope for his failure, but they can't say that that's the reason.

It ain’t basketball, but it is some kind of madness.

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