Thursday, September 01, 2011
Why Politics Isn't Sports
With the presidential election in 2012 just around the corner, the media frenzy will soon be in full swing. If it's anything like 2008, the media will cover the election like a sporting event.
In a lot of ways, this makes sense. Sports may very well be the world's most successful form of entertainment, and the techniques it has pioneered (play-by-play, color commentary, talk radio, highlight films, etc.) are an integral part of how we view the world.
When CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News rolls out a lineup of "experts" and spin doctors to analyze a recently concluded debate, it resembles nothing so much as the in-studio postgame show after a sporting competition. (By the way, in this analogy, which talking head is Charles Barkley? James Carville?)
Yet there is one crucial way in which politics isn't sports. Sports, with a few exceptions, is morally neutral. Each team has fans and haters, but the teams and players aren't actually evil (unless we're talking about scumbags like Bill Romanowski) and who wins and loses ultimately doesn't matter to anyone but the fans.
Like sports journalism, media coverage of politics will often focus on the virtuosity of technique. We admire "consummate politicians" like Bill Clinton for their remarkable abilities on the field. But it's one thing to admire LeBron James for his ability to lead the Miami Heat to victory (or not...zing!). It's another to admire Dick Cheney for his ability to subvert the Constitution.
Unlike in sports, in politics, you can't admire the player if the cause is unjust.