Grand County " There is no silver medal in the presidential race
August 18, 2008
I have a confession to make. I am both a sports fan and a news junkie. I am having a feast in August and September. We have the Olympics a week-plus, the Democratic National Convention no more than 60 miles away from us immediately following, and the Republican National Convention TV coverage comes right after that.
While all three events keep the adrenaline pumping, the differences between presidential campaigns and sporting events are large. Unlike sports, in politics there are no referees, few rules candidates can’t get around, no IOC arbitration to settle the disputes, and no drug testing (though candidates now have learned to be up front with ’60s drug use instead of claiming they “did not inhale”).
Candidates can pull punches below the belt in the last weekend of a campaign with swiftboating negative and misleading attack ads that prey on people’s fear and ignorance and give no chance for the opponent to respond. I got a mailing like that last weekend just before primary from a Democratic congressional candidate.
E-mail, TV commercials, and whisper campaigns are more often the vehicle of choice for such tactics these days, though.
Unlike the end result of competition in the Olympics, what counts at the end of a political campaign is winning the elected position. It’s winner take all. A silver medal doesn’t mean much. Ask Al Gore or John Kerry.
Sport is really a form of entertainment with little practical impact on our everyday lives. Granted, it gives us all something we can talk about without raising the hackles of those whose political or religious views differ from us.
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Sometimes it becomes a unifying factor for a nation in the midst of conflict. Countries like Iraq float a national soccer team all ethnic groups can cheer. In the blood of the Balkan wars a decade ago, even the Bosnians sent athletes to the Olympics.
Presidents and leaders in power become sports fans. I was struck with the TV image of Mohammed Karzai of Afghanistan sitting in the stands of the opening Olympic ceremonies. I wondered what was on his mind. Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Bush reached across seats to chat (probably about the Russian invasion of Georgia) with the informality of two acquaintances at a Bronco game.
The outcome of this political year, on the other hand, will have much to do with our own lives here in Grand County. The presidential candidate we elect will probably tilt the Supreme Court to the right or left, depending upon the litmus test he gives to his nominees. Newly appointed justices could confirm or destroy Roe v. Wade (McCain is committed to overturning Roe v. Wade; Obama is pro choice).
The new president will have the power to order more or less energetic enforcement of environmental laws, rules, and regulations. The election will determine whether we can afford health insurance.
It will certainly affect our taxes. McCain continues the Bush tax breaks to the rich and corporations; Obama advocates tax relief to the middle class and those who earn income by working.
Will any part of Social Security be privatized? On March 8, McCain affirmed support of the Bush plan for personal savings accounts as a proposal to deal with the Social Security funding problems. Obama wants to continue Social Security as it is with higher payroll deductions and stronger oversight of pension funds.
Immediate gas price relief is also on the agenda. Will it be what McCain advocates, new offshore drilling? Critics point out that these new wells are 10 years away from coming online. He also proposes a summer gas tax holiday, which would raid the federal fund used to pay improvements in roads and bridges.
Or would it be a $1,000 tax refund and a release of well-stocked oil reserves as Obama proposes? Whatever happens will probably influence whether we have good tourist/ski seasons or a poor ones in the future.
To get better informed about the details of all of these issues, see http://www.barackobama.com or http://www.johnmccain.com and make your own comparisons. Keep informed and don’t believe attack ads, blogs or whisper campaigns until you do some digging yourself. Consider the source and take all of these kinds of tactics with a grain of salt.
As we cheer for Team USA or for our favorite political candidates, let us remember that the real game in town this fall will be the presidential election. We will be besieged with these new styles of campaign tactics. As citizens, we need to take the responsibility to be more astute than dedicated sports fans second-guessing a Bronco third down decision or marveling at the fine points of a perfect balance beam routine.
Sidenote: William Hamilton’s column, “The Guns of August: Please, not again” (August 12), was spot on. Lucky for the United States Georgia was not yet a member of NATO, or our treaty obligations might have embroiled us in a repeat performance of World War I.
Let us separate presidential candidate posturing from the realities of our current inability to back up veiled military threats against Russia. To put it another way, which divisions do we divert from Iraq and Afghanistan to fight Russia? This is a case where there are many other tools in our toolbox short of armed conflict we can use to send Russia a message, and we should use them.
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