COLUMN: Modern politics could use new definition of 'victory'
Geriatric joys require a different set of benchmarks than does the happy road of younger dreamers.
After eight decades of make-believe inspired by the movies and further fed by sensual magazine and TV ads, it is increasingly easy to dump reality in favor of fantasy, but that doesn’t do much for shaping our future. The frivolous appeal of the faces and bodies of young models and the virility of the John Waynes of the West as they do their stuff on film are fun for a while — like watching such fanciful films as “Revenge of the Zombies." But, when we escape the illusions of budding maturity, we finally have to deal with the realities more likely to define our lives.
And that brings us to the fantasy world of politics.
Modern politics, after all, largely are a game and as do many games, they reward the big winners with fame and fortune beyond most imaginations.
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In basketball, for example, LeBron James is at the top of the list with a salary in the many millions, and in tennis it’s Rafael Nadal earning double that figure — while each enjoys a notoriety worth even more in both income and ego.
What they do with their victory doesn’t really matter as long as it’s legal and reasonably respectable — and that sounds very much like the game of politics. It’s hard to find fault with that as long as the endgame simply is to win, but that’s the problem with the game of governance as it’s played today — the definition of victory.
From the first days of basketball in 1891 the object was to get the ball through the hoop, and in tennis it has always been to get the ball over the net and stay in bounds, but the game of politics no longer reflects its original purpose.
The point of American politics as declared in 1776, then detailed a decade later in the Constitution, was to achieve certain goals of governance — primarily to protect and to better serve its people. The dreams of a new nation, a new society, dedicated to the proposition “that all men are created equal ... (with) certain unalienable Rights” captured the imagination and enthusiasm of oppressed and impoverished people worldwide.
The idea of a government designed to serve the needs of all its people and dedicated to serving those needs fairly, equitably and honorably was unique as well as inspiring.
Unfortunately, time seems to have dimmed that spirit of democratic idealism. In the two-plus centuries that separate us from those historic moments, the ideals that inspired our Founders and helped define our nation quickly are fading.
It is in that loss that the values which created, and for so long sustained our nation, now falter. And in much the same way that the aging Michael Jordan can no longer play for the Bulls, or that an older McEnroe is no longer welcome at center court, the high spirits and youthful enthusiasm that designed and helped build our nation has grown more feeble with age. The noble goals of community service that had once set us apart from all the other nations of history are being replaced by a passion for electoral victory — at whatever cost.
Missing, for example, is the spirit of national purpose evident during World War II when drives to collect scrap iron and rubber were community affairs and appeals to buy U.S. War Bonds were wildly successful and when the mad rush of young men to enlist for military service both united us and defined us.
This really was one nation, only minimally divisible, whose goals and pursuit of those goals helped make us all family. Today’s unity, by contrast, is narrowly focused on the reduction of taxes.
The Constitution’s pledge to “promote the general Welfare” is being compromised by a legislative preference for the smaller, more influential stratum of our society. Concern for the humanitarian needs of those in distress is being subverted by accommodation for those more secure.
Programs designed for the nation’s most disadvantaged — Head Start for children, food assistance programs for the poor, housing for the homeless and so many other charitable services — are being targeted as the most convenient route to national debt reduction, in effect using funds pledged to the welfare of our most needy to satisfy the preferences of our most privileged.
Winners in athletic contests are fully deserving of their trophies and financial rewards, but in the game of politics our concentration must once again be on the larger principles which inspired our founders and sustained us for the succeeding centuries. By tradition, to the victor go the spoils, but in the game of politics, in addition to the fruits of success, should go the obligation — and the satisfaction — of serving the needs of the many.
And should that procedure be followed, the lives on both sides of that equation greatly will be enhanced.
Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.