I FIND IT FASCINATING THAT THE SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES precede the U.S. presidential election every fourth year. I sit spellbound watching the world’s best athletes give their all to stand atop the medal platform. When the Olympic flame is extinguished, I am stuck with watching three months of the Potomac Pentathlon. The contrast is striking.
Olympic athletes embrace the values of excellence, respect and friendship. While the modern media spectacle may seem gaudy with its advertising spin and “Today” show interviews with the personality du jour, there is an authenticity to each athlete’s quest. A gun sounds or a bell chimes and their opportunity of a lifetime is now “make or break.” Someone wins, others lose, but most competitors embrace. As spectators, we sense that they are celebrating a common investment of hard work, sweat and perseverance— and a common rejection of cheap tricks.
Contrast that to our acceptance (maybe encouragement) of less than the very best from our presidential contenders. They engage in a Potomac Pentathlon of five events—spin, innuendo, hype, deflection and “family photo op.” The two major-party campaigns and their affiliates discount the power of ideas, instead counting on winning the final leg of the political cross-country after an “October surprise” when their competitor is tripped up in the final lap.
And you and I let it happen. We have come to reward a segment of our media that titillates rather than informs. I genuinely doubt that the drafters of our Constitution had this in mind when they secured the freedom of just one industry in the Constitution—the press.
Am I venting? Yes. Parents and teachers once challenged their children and students to work hard so as to earn the privilege of being elected president of the United States of America. When Art Linkletter asked children in the 1960s what they wanted to be when they grew up, president and astronaut were common answers. If interviewed today, a driven 10-year-old athlete might say, “An Olympic swimmer with more medals than Michael Phelps.” A 10-year-old dreamer might say, “I want to invent a better iPhone.” And the 10-year-old future public policymaker might say, “I want to start my own federal Super PAC.”
In this coarse campaign process, I fear we are limiting our children’s aspirations and driving away potentially visionary leaders. Could Abraham Lincoln have survived assaults from MSNBC and Fox News if they had been around in 1860? Would he have been allowed to lead with his determination to preserve our Union, often displeasing friend and foe? Would Republican Theodore Roosevelt have had the courage to unleash the American economy from monopolistic trusts? Would Democrat Harry Truman have been willing to accept his sole ability to bring an abrupt halt to World War II?
Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or one uncomfortable with either party, get ready to vote in November. Our vote is but a part of what we owe to those who have defended that right. No one should be trusted who tells you that your choice is wrong or your vote is irrelevant. Most important, tell a young person you love that if they work very, very hard they can still grow up to be president of the United States.