THE SUPER BOWL IS THE MOST POPULAR EVENT in American life; but after it’s over, the players know that it’s time to shut up and go home. So do the owners, the refs, the agents, the cheerleaders and even the journalists who cover the event. They go home, rest up, stay out of the line of fire and keep a low profile. Most important of all, they muzzle it. They give the public a much-needed break from all the hoopla, drama, violence, hyperbole, contract disputes, booth reviews of challenged interceptions and concussions. And, oh yes, the inane half-time shows. The public couldn’t stand it if football was played all year-round. The whole country would go nuts.
Why don’t politicians understand this need to give the public a breather? Why don’t they understand that even the most radiant, beloved star will eventually wear out his welcome? (The same is even truer for politicians, who were never all that radiant or beloved in the first place.) When a team wins the World Series at the end of October, they have a lavish celebration in the clubhouse, a big parade and a nice visit to the White House. Then they shut up and go home until the following spring because they know that by the end of October, the public is sick of watching baseball. If the man in the street saw one more futile pick-off attempt or one more intentional walk, he’d put his fist through the television.
Politicians don’t understand this. Politicians can’t shut up for even 24 hours after a big election. As soon as the presidential election is over, people start grinding their knives, polishing their stilettos and getting ready for the mid-terms. As soon mid-term elections are over, everyone starts shining truncheons for the next presidential election. Things immediately turn nasty. Politicians start savaging their opponents and talking about how America is broken and needs fixing. They issue dire warnings that the American Dream is on life support. They make the people whose party is out of power angry because it seems like they’re gloating, and they make the people who voted them into office angry because they voted them into office to reduce unemployment, boost wages and run the country properly, not to run their mouths.
The cycle of American life is organized around seasonal events we all love dearly, but that we quickly put out of our minds as soon as they are over. We have a big Fourth of July Parade. We don’t have another one in August. When Halloween is over, the witches and jack o’ lanterns and black cats go back up into the attic until next year, the same way Santa Claus and his elves vaporize the first week in January. St. Patrick’s Day parades are terrific—but would you want one every week?
American politicians are having the equivalent of a 365-day Halloween Party—a party that no one but them wants to attend. Leaders are supposed to inspire the troops, which is what leaders do in sports, private industry, education and health care. Politicians don’t do that. Politicians make everybody feel badly about everything. They posture. They cavil. They equivocate. They lie. Their poisonous negativity creates a toxic mood in which people can’t hear themselves think.
This wouldn’t be so bad if they occasionally got off the stage. The way athletes do. The five-month gap between the Super Bowl and training camp allows the fans to forget how much they hate the refs, the announcers and the beer vendors. The months between the World Series and spring training allows the public to forget how deadly baseball can be in August. These respites, these grace periods, allow the public to re-focus—to breathe.
Politicians will not allow the public to breathe. Nothing happens without their jumping on the bandwagon and grandstanding. Nothing happens without politicians’ taking credit or assigning blame. They are like hyperactive kids who need to be sent to their rooms with no dinner and no toys. And told to stay up there forever.