January 8, 2009

What Politicians Could Learn From Football

If there is one thing Americans from every region, income bracket, ethnic group and political persuasion have done in unison in recent days, it is watch football – a true common denominator of our culture.

More than any other game, football illustrates our virtues as a people, reflecting our national identity and values. That is why so many young men in this country grow up learning more on the football field than they ever do in the classroom – and to point this out is not to say something shameful about our national priorities or indict either football or classroom learning. It is simply to acknowledge that football’s unique combination of physical strife and tactical maneuvering challenges both the character and the intellect in a way few classrooms can.

Perhaps the most important value football can remind Americans of today is justice.

Americans love football because it rewards those who deserve to be rewarded. It does this because its rules are well known, commonsensical, and unchanging during any particular game and season, and also because what it takes to win in football transcends the natural physical talents of those who play it.

Just as the kid who never graduates from high school can end up being the largest employer in town, so the kid who is too slow to run track and too short to play basketball can became the fullback who is too hard to tackle – especially when it is fourth and one and the game is on the line.

Just as a partnership of neighborhood plumbers can make millions through hard work and thrift while Wall Street hedge funds go bankrupt through negligence and greed, so, too, a team of lesser athletes that fights harder and devises a better game plan can defeat a faster and bigger yet undisciplined team when they meet face-to-face on the gridiron.

It happens all the time.

It is why Americans are always ready to bet on their own team even when their team is the underdog – maybe especially when their team is the underdog.

It is why Americans are perennially optimistic. We believe in ourselves. We believe in the efficacy of our own hard work and determination. We believe that if we don’t let up and keep playing by the rules, we will eventually win – perhaps not in this particular game or this particular season, but certainly over the course of an honorable career.

We have learned this from our national history and from our personal histories. This is the way America works. This is why America works.

And this is what politicians must never change – the rules of the American dream.

Some politicians, of course, are tempted to do just that. Some would have government pick the winners and losers in America life, and some – seeing our free society as too rough and risky – think they can create a better nation where no one ever loses.

The former are like referees who take it upon themselves to determine the outcome of the game – regardless of the score. These politicians would arrange it so certain Americans would never be allowed to fail in their businesses while all other Americans would be forced to downsize or forego their dreams to cover the favored ones’ losses.

The latter would put America in a prevent defense. They do not believe the role of government is to protect liberty while letting individuals freely pursue whatever opportunities inspire them. They believe the role of government is to prevent people from lacking food, housing and health care by having government guarantee food, housing and health care. In football, the prevent defense leads to surrendered yardage. In government, it leads to surrendered freedom.

There is only one way a football-loving people can deal with politicians who would rather fix the game than enforce old rules that are tried and true: Boo them off the field.


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