Friday, October 17, 2008

As Election Day Looms, Remember Jackie Robinson

When it comes to dangerous topics of conversation, religion and politics share the crown while sports lurk somewhere in the shadows of the throne. There is probably some grand social statement to be drawn from that observation. Unfortunately, my formal training is in engineering so I'm not the guy to make it.

Instead, I point this out as a warning. We should all prepare ourselves as November 4th, 2008 approaches.

That is because I suspect we'll see more and more stories crossing sports with politics, which should make for some interesting comment postings. Especially because, as we get closer to the actual election, interested parties will drop their hands and start to throw haymakers. That will leave chins wide open for the forthcoming return salvos.

I suspect this is when the race card will come out. Sooner or later it must.

This is the first African American making a serious run at the most powerful position in the free world (supposedly). A position held exclusively by white males since its creation over 200 years ago. A position that presides over a country with an odious history of slavery and segregation of the races.

Talk about an elephant in the room.

And yet, there's this idea that even touching the subject is cheap and tawdry. As if the very idea that race might still be relevant is an egregious insult to everyone involved i.e. to every American. Personally, I think it's insulting to ignore race. And possibly catastrophic.

Just think about this.

Our country has been in the fist of trickle down economics since the days of Ronald Reagan began in 1980. Bill Clinton kind of tried to reverse it, but let's just say it was a less-than-robust attempt. Regardless, it's moot since George W. Bush has brought the theory back with twice the vengeance.

Roughly, the idea is to give the rich more money because they will reinvest it at the top of the economy via retail, securities, other capital contributions to corporations, etc. The money will then trickle from the top down to the lower classes in the form of new jobs, increased wages, increased benefits, etc. This will create an upwardly mobile system and a mechanism to keep you at the top once you arrive there. Not only that, trickle down economics will push that top higher and higher.

Or so they said.

Turns out that, after 28 years of practice, the system simply cannot provide all three of these thing. It just doesn't work like that. If the system provides upward mobility, it requires downward mobility to compensate. Either some from the top must fall or the entire system must move towards the middle. Call it Newton's Third Law of Economics.

There are either haves versus have-nots or everyone must become equal. Logically, there can be no other option.

The abyss that opened between the rich and middle class during the Reagan years proved it. And every dollar added to it in the years since continues to prove it.

Now, when we look into that ever-widening abyss, what do we see?

We see the shattered lives and dreams of the poor and middle class. We see banks crumble left and right while their toxic mortgage-backed securities spread the infection of failure across the globe. We see an absolutely necessary $700 billion bail-out potentially going to some of the very same people who were the architects of the crisis. People who were wealthy before their greed brought on what looks like a financial apocalypse.

We watch as the shell-shocked stock markets try to stave off rock-bottom with convulsive and quixotic charges to safety. And then watch days on end in full retreat.

We watch Washington scurry to protect the special interests that keep them in office. Where bitter and juvenile partisan politics have institutionalized class-warfare and helped deliver us to the tipping point. Where counterproductive snipings continue this very second and push more of us over the edge.

We see these constant threads running through the policies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and reaching a crescendo under George W. Bush.

We see a system that has, until very recently, refused to seriously consider an individual for its highest position unless that individual was a white male from one of a few religions. A system that still requires millions of dollars to be taken seriously as such a candidate.

We see the glaring problems and inequities. And we FINALLY see the need for change. Or do we?

Because one candidate is quite obviously a change from the monotony above. And one is not.

Candidate A is old and stale; Candidate B is not. A is a Washington lifer; B is not. A is cozy with Bush and the Old Guard (or was until recently); B is not. A has tried to overwhelm common sense with baldfaced lies; B has not. A has echoed elections past by indulging in fallacious and cowardly mudslinging with little hesitation; B has responded but in more muted tones.

Candidate A's ties to the wealthy corporate fatcats run deep; Candidate B's do not. A vehemently supported the deregulation that helped create financial disaster and was defending it less than two months ago. B wants to cut taxes on the poorest 95% of America and increase them (marginally) on the richest five percent.

Candidate A lists the father of Reaganomics as a personal hero; Candidate B does not.

Many feel that, if we stopped here, Candidate A wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the election. The comparison drastically favors Candidate B and nothing listed above is even debatable; it's all easily verified via independent third parties.

Of course, one key element is missing: Candidate B is quite obviously Barack Obama and Barack Obama is African American.

I don't mean to insinuate that this is the ultimate factor controlling every decision nor should it be. Instead, I'm pointing out that it's ridiculous to pretend that the fact is irrelevant or even unimportant.

For instance, why does the race seem so close?

It should be equally obvious to casual observers and veteran politicos that, unless you belong to a very select group, there is simply no reason to vote for John McCain. That group includes those satisfied with the status quo, the wealthiest 5-10%, veterans, blind right-wingers, and those laboring under misconception. That is a small group and not all will vote for him.

I refuse to believe it encompasses almost half of the American voting population.

And yet, it must if the straw polls are accurate. It must if the race is so close considering this point in our history, the system that got us here, the leaders of that system for the last 30 years, and the current candidates to be its next leader.

Of course, there is another possibility. Something that explains why a 45-year-old, blue-collar individual supporting a family on $60K a year would vote for McCain. Why that individual would explain his or her support by pointing to Obama's inexperience or McCain's economic plan.

Racism is alive and well.

That's what many people assume when they hear such weak justification. Especially when it comes from the very people who would most benefit from a drastic reversal of the status quo. The very people whose quality of life has been consistently eroded under the last 30 years of leadership that John McCain admires, represents, and is sure to continue. The very people who should champion Obama's inexperience and economic stance.

And it's wrong because I don't think racism is alive and well.

I think the straw polls are inaccurate. I think they do a horrible job of capturing a representative cross-section of the American populace. They do a fine job of capturing a representative cross-section of the typical American voting populace, but I think that populace will be joined by an unprecedented wave of new voters. And I think the vast majority of these will support Obama, which is why the race looks much closer than it really is.

But even if the straw polls are accurate, it can't be racism.

See, I believe racism is alive but dying. However, I believe that our unwillingness to openly and honestly confront the problem is its life-support. Our silence is sustaining it when it's at its weakest point and giving it the chance to regroup, recover, and resurge. That would be a catastrophe.

And this election is a perfect example.

The whispers say racism is the only thing keeping John McCain in the running. And that's totally understandable given our history and the circumstances, though it is hopefully and probably untrue. Still, this reasonable but erroneous belief threatens to perpetuate the paranoid negativity that guarantees racism in the future.

All because we're not supposed to talk about it.

We're prevented from confirming that, what may look like racism, is actually just a legitimate and appropriate difference of opinions. A difference with regards to two very dissimilar men instead of with regards to a fundamental outlook on humanity.

We're prevented from delivering the coup de grace.

So why is this relevant to sports?

Because sports gave us Jack Johnson, Althea Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos.

They gave us Joe Lewis, Jesse Owens, Arthur Ashe, and Tiger Woods.

They gave us Muhammad Ali.

They gave us Jackie Robinson.

Sports have been on the frontier of racial and social progress before. Perhaps, it is that time once again.

In the past, it was the owners and athletes who led by example. This time, it may be the fans' turn.

Keep that in mind as Election Day nears.

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