As political sports, the passage of a Health Care bill was something we haven’t seen in a long time. All day there were updates on the radio relaying the status of the debate and what the latest deals were in Washingtoon. It came down to a pair of speeches in the well between Bonoir and Pelosi, with shouts and applause breaking and highlighting their pace like the UK House of Commons. Then, there was the vote.
I feel a little bit of shame in enjoying this game for many reasons. Politics is not a spectator sport, after all, and seeing it as an event covered on teevee rather than a pickup game with our friends is what I consider to be a lot of our problem right now. I’ve also said many times that the Democrats are favored by turning down the noise of partisanship and focusing on what really needs to happen. Why was this event so compelling?
As much as I’d like to see the partisan rhetoric cooled off and the games diminished, this time it all worked. For one thing, my side won, so go ahead and call me a hypocrite if you’d like. But hearing Bonoir give an excellent speech, followed by Pelosi’s call to action and the crackle of energy in the House of Representatives was a great reminder of how a good fight, well fought, is at the core of how we move forward and get things done in a Democratic Republic.
The main difference between a political fight and a football game is often that we know when the football game ends, but politics just goes on. Moments like the Health Care Bill define a stopping point when the players take off their helmets and shake hands, pray together, and sometimes have a good laugh. I hope that our House of Representatives can do that while the rest of us hit the coffee pot and do our Monday morning quarterbacking.
One key similarity between a sports event and politics is that it takes two teams to make a good game. When they are evenly matched, you know that something exciting has a chance of happening. If nothing else, a team that looks great on paper has to prove themselves on the field, never looking past what’s in front of them and always playing well as a team, not a bunch of individuals. That’s where the disarray of cheering and yelling when their leader had the ball felt like a small victory in itself.
The disconnection between Washingtoon and the real world is at least as big as the difference between a Sunday game between friends and the bright lights of a professional league. If the big show is ever going to connect it has to have the same energy, doubled down with quality and commitment. There’s still a long way to go before the Republicans are genuinely adding to Democrat proposals rather than opposing them, but engagement and energy is where it’s going to start.
At the end of this game we have a working Health Care system. For the first time in a century of trying, stretching back to the time of Upton Sinclair and Teddy Roosevelt, a kind of universal coverage has been achieved. It often takes us a century to accomplish big goals, such as ending slavery and then again to give former slaves equal rights.
This is what progress looks like – change. With change comes friction and with friction a lot of heat. Between the bright lights and the sweaty challenge of the game it’s rare that anyone can come through it looking good, so few people really try. That’s the shame of it all, because politicians still have a lot to learn from a pickup game. But when they get in there and do it amazing things can happen, things that are almost as amazing as the New Orleans Saints actually winning a Superbowl.
I don’t want our politicians to look good. I think that they look their best when they’ve given it their all. That’s not the same as working together to make really good policy and law, but it seems a lot closer to that ideal than being cool, clean, and disconnected from the fight. Like the Health Care bill, I didn’t get everything I wanted but I got a lot of it. It’s a good start.