It's been a busy fall in Washington, which is unusual. The customary avenues of interest, come October in the nation's capital generally fall along the lines of which cases the Supreme Court will hear, what kind of winter we can expect, and whether the Redskins will put on the usual dismal show this year. Back to school means back to work, back to the humdrum everyday.
But 2012 brought a few surprises. Washington has a baseball team that is actually playing in the post-season, and generating unprecedented excitement. The Redskins are up and down, but have a new quarterback whose performance is kindling hope where there was previously despair. We thrive on the competitions we are seeing now. Everybody loves a good game, and we love watching the professionals slugging it out in pursuit of the playoffs, the World Series, the Super Bowl, or even just a winning season.
But this year, also, let us not forget the political arena, where November's election is grinding out the usual mix of lies, accusations, denials, and statistics that are manipulated in any number of ways to make one or the other candidate look dishonest, out of touch, incompetent, or just plain stupid. On any given day, in any given political ad (and we in Virginia have been given far more than our fair share) one is led to believe that the various candidates hate women, care nothing about children or the elderly, are immune to the issues that affect the general public, care nothing about increasing our tax burden, have not been doing their jobs, and/or have generally operated in ways that undermine the American way of life.
Of course, I have my own candidate preferences, and tend to believe more of their pronouncements than others--but I think I speak for a lot of my fellow citizens in saying that I am no longer interested in candidates' ads. I mute my TV for paid political announcements, hang up on survey takers, and actively avoid anyone who looks like they might hand me a flyer. Political mail travels a short path from my mail slot to my trash can, and, unlike the multitude of candidates, I most wholeheartedly DON'T approve these messages. Hate mail used to be dismissed in campaigns; now it's transmogrified into TV ads.
I think it's time that politicians took a page out of the sports handbook. Any sports interview I've seen this year has players voicing respect for their opponents, and appreciation for their teammates, managers, and coaches. There are few accusations of foul play, and no vilification of coaches or umpires (maybe, an exception here for the NFL and their substitute referees) or other players. They talk about their strengths and weaknesses, what they did right, what they did wrong, tell us what they need to improve on--and express hope for the future. For the most part, the interviewees are honest, thoughtful, clear, and understandable; not negative, not vituperative, not arrogant, petty or obnoxious. They are, in a word, sportsman-like.
I know that the arenas are not the same. I know that the election has more at stake than a SuperBowl ring or a World Series trophy. I know that running a country is infinitely more complex than two teams on a field, playing a game that has hard-and-fast rules governing their behavior. Yet the contests that decide who will make policy, and who will represent us don't have to be hate-filled and ugly. You don't have to drag the other guy down to raise yourself up. That's not the way to earn trust and respect and loyalty--which is what these contests are ultimately about. It's about sportsmanship.