On the Homestretch in the Bottom of the Ninth
It's no secret that the press loves to equate the scrum of American politics with, well, a rugby scrum. Sports lingo gives us ink-stained wretches a convenient explanatory shorthand (understandable by even the slobbiest of football slobs) to use in whittling down the impossibly complex narrative of a modern Presidential campaign into an easily digested blurb or soundbite.
The candidates themselves play into this simplification, often by associating themselves with a sport that is photogenic, action-oriented, and above all manly. Teddy Roosevelt was a big-game hunter, JFK had football, and Bill Clinton ate fast-food (if you don't believe that's a contact sport, just ask Morgan Spurlock). The theory is that we will find the candidates more relatable, more human, if we see them engaging in these types of activities. Of course it doesn't always work that way, as John Kerry's pathetically stiff attempts at windsurfing clearly show, but the allure of a quick and easy image boost is just too much for most campaigns to pass up.
However, lost in all the sporting imagery and phrasing is a crucial aspect of sport, one that is drilled into the heads of every little league soccer player in the land: sportmanship. As defined by Wikipedia, sportsmanship:
"...is how each competitor acts before, during, and after the competition. Not only is it important to have good sportsmanship if one wins, but also if one loses."
In other words, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
In the game of modern American politics, that ethos has been forgotten, if indeed it ever existed. Campaigning for public office has become such an insanely punishing process that only the power-mad or the sado-masochistic need apply (two groups with much overlap). No attack is out of bounds, no accusation too wild, no smear too underhanded to use against an opponent.
Maybe politics, like any other sport, should have a regulatory group that would set standards of behavior, and enforce them. The press used to perform that function, but more often than not they act as though they were howling hockey fans, pounding on the glass and screaming for blood as the home team's enforcer beats the living crap out of the visitor's forward.
Motivated by their own intense battle for ratings supremacy, and under pressure by their corporate owners to turn a profit, they know they have to draw eyeballs to their product. They also know that "Cheney sez Kerry loves bin Laden" grabs people more effectively than "Candidates Politely Debate Policy Differences".
In the end, the power to change the way politics in America rests with the electorate. Like the people of Green Bay, who own a majority of stock in their beloved Packers, we are the owners of our democracy. It we really want fair play and good sportsmanship, we should demand it. If not, then let's stop complaining, and sit back and enjoy the fight.