Sunday, May 29, 2005

What now, coach?

Vince Lombardi

Anybody who reads Kos, or Atrios, or Josh Marshall, or The Decembrist, or Digby, or Kevin Drum or Matthew Yglesias, or any of the other 'left-of-center' bloggers has probably read a few dozen exegeses exploring the mysteries of Republican support among the many, many people who are harmed by Republican policies, and the durability of that support even in the face of monumental hypocrisy, corruption, betrayal of American Values, and so on.

Some of that analysis is quite good, and possibly even useful, but in America, no combination of policies, ethics, tactics, initiatives, and blah blah has the power to overcome that most fundamental of American Values - the one core virtue that is inculcated into every citizen from the earliest age, and reinforced each day of our lives.

Team Spirit.

Team Spirit is what fueled the New Deal, and our engagement in WWII. FDR was a master coach and cheerleader. In 1952, Eisenhower played the role of school quarterback to Adlai Stevenson's debate team captain (though by today's standards, he was quite the liberal). Kennedy gave a darned good locker room speech, but Johnson was full of self-doubt (and didn't understand Deefense), and led the team into its worst season in memory.

Now, by the standard of getting things done, Johnson was one of the most effective presidents ever. I'll spare you the litany of his accomplishments, but suffice to say, he made things happen. Yeah, he made some bad calls, but his real failure was in alienating the fans. He made it okay to break with Democratic Team Loyalty. That created a vacuum, which (as you know) is abhorred by nature.

Enter Nixon.

I hear you thinking that Nixon was hardly a great cheerleader - not a charismatic leader to inspire loyalty or rally anybody to a Great Cause, and you're right. However, he was a great student of the game. By '68, he had already made a long career of encouraging America's innate desire to destroy Evil by finding Evil in every quarter, and loosing the dogs of self-righteousness on it at every opportunity. In the chaos and moral ambiguity of the sixties, his scientific play-calling completely swamped the naive do-gooders of the Democratic Party. The realignment of the fan base that he accomplished is still the controlling factor in American politics today. [NOTE: A largely unacknowledged, but primary, factor in all this was race, but we don't talk about that in polite conversation.]

Rumor has it that in '67, Nixon wanted Vince Lombardi as his running mate, but was discouraged to find out that he was a Kennedy Democrat. In 1969, Lombardi moved to Washington, DC to take over leadership of the Redskins. I don't think he ever actually came out in support of the Republican Party, but his famous ethos of discipline, respect for authority, hard work, and WINNING made him a darling of the Right, and they claimed him as a team mascot.

In the years since, you're hard pressed to find a Republican office not adorned with one of Lombardi's famous maxims. The most famous of all (though it's uncertain that he ever said it) is "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Stirring stuff. The stuff Republican Partisanship is made of.

Nixon got in trouble, and Carter couldn't coach a junior high badminton team, then we had The Gipper, about whom nothing need be said. Bush I was the classic elevated assistant - in over his head - so the Democrats got another chance with Clinton.

Bill Clinton had a hell of a win/loss record, but the R's worked the refs and the crowd like crazy, and when he got caught in a, umm, recruiting scandal, he blew his chance to swing the fans over to the D Team. The R's somehow made it look to the fans like every foreign and domestic policy success he racked up was a victory for the out-of-towners. Yes, this was madness, but the crowd was drunk with Nixonian rage and Reaganite loyalty, and you could hardly see the field of play for all the crap that was being thrown from the stands.

The Bush II regime is too grotesquely evil for me to carry on the tiresome football metaphor much farther, but they are still playing it all like a game, and playing to win, and they are still playing against the Democratic Party. America loves a winner. Yay team.

The problem for anybody who is suited up for the Common Good is that they're playing a different game, in a forgotten stadium, with a withered fan base, and it's not going so well for the Home Team.

Now lest you think I'm just trying to depress you, I want to leave you with some words from that ol' Democrat, Vince Lombardi. These words are from the last public speech he ever gave, just before he went into the hospital to die of cancer. There are a few lines of this speech that you see quoted over and over, but I've chosen some excerpts that are not usually seen:
...Right now in a large sense I think, we’re engaged in a struggle which is far more fiercely contested than anything, and it’s a struggle for the hearts and it’s a struggle for the souls and minds of all of us. And it’s a game in which there are no spectators, only players, and it’s a struggle which is going to test all of our courage, and all of our stamina, and all of our teamwork. At the same time, I want to say too that I think we live in an age for heroes.

At no other time in our history have the prizes and the perils at one and the same time been so great. But I think we have to decide whether we want to provide a full life for humanity or destroy ourselves with our own problems. And the test is going to be whether man mistakes the growth of wealth and power with the growth of spirit and character. Or like some infant who is playing with matches destroys the very house he may have inherited.
Mental toughness is spartanism with its qualities of sacrifice and self-denial, also the qualities of dedication and fearlessness and love. Not the love that you have for your wife or your wife may have for you. The love I am speaking of is loyalty, which is the greatest of loves. Teamwork, which is a form of love, and the love that one man has for another is respecting the dignity of another man. The love I speak of is not detraction. You show me a man who speaks ill of another and I’ll show you a man who is only temporarily successful. Or one who is not charitable. Or one who is not loyal.

I’m not advocating that love is the answer to everything, but when I speak about the love which forces everyone to love everyone else. For example, you’ve got to love the white man because he is white or the black man because he is black or the poor man because he is poor or your enemy because he is your enemy, but rather a love of one human for another human -- who just happens to be white or black, rich or poor, enemy or friend, because heart-power is your strength, heart-power is the strength of your company, heart-power is the strength of America and hate-power is the weakness of the world.
How you do this, I think is essential to understand that conquests are won primarily in the hearts of men and once you have won their hearts, they’ll follow you anywhere. Man will respond to this type of leadership in a most remarkable way. Success is based upon a spiritual quality, a power to inspire others. Sometimes for good, sometimes for evil, sometimes for one’s own personal ends. Sometimes it can be partially or wholly evil. When it is evil, fortunately, while it may temporarily succeed, it always keeps within itself the seeds of its own destruction...

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