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Politics as sport

Brother Bill Mewes, C.S.C. | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Politics is way too important to be just a sport; but, nevertheless, it is played like a sport and it is a great spectator sport. Perhaps rather than played like a sport, it is entered into like a war. The popular saying that “all is fair in love and war” is used to make the unacceptable acceptable or the immoral moral. Politicians seem to use the same principle to justify their tactics.

For those who live for politics, the game is always on. What are the rules? It seems to be like those of the television program “Survivor.” In the game anything goes if you can get away with it. Lying is acceptable. Smearing another player is acceptable. It can all be justified because everyone knows that lying and smearing and anything else is acceptable. Those seem to be the same rules for political races. Lying is not only allowed but praised as a smart tactic, provided one wins. So everyone knows to expect lies and false smears, but still people are caught off guard at times and believe them, or at least want to believe them, depending who one is for. The main object is not the truth or the common good or the good of the country or world, but the good of winning – of being the survivor.

During a political campaign, if lies are used against a particular candidate, the candidate and his or her workers and supporters can get pretty steamed up about the dirty tricks of their opponent and do their best to match falsehoods lie for lie or even go one better. Then, after the race, no matter how angry they were at the dirty tricks of their opponent, they will make sure that if the tricks were successful, they will be sure to use them the next time, or advise their side to use them.

This all or nothing race for survival can be extremely exciting. Some people seem to live primarily for the present race or the next race as racing brings excitement to their life. For this stimulation some have politics as their job and others volunteer for campaigns.

Even if one is not directly involved in a campaign, just watching can be exciting. Listening to all the analyses of what is going on, of tricks being played, of October surprises, of things done right in a campaign and wrong can add spice to life.

Not only is television enraptured with all that is going on in big political campaigns – and also what goes on behind the scenes and what goes on outside the campaign that may effect it – but individuals not involved in the process and not watching television can get entertainment by watching their fellow humans and their reaction to what is going on.

For example, it is interesting and entertaining to learn why people plan to vote for a particular candidate. Many won’t tell you who they plan to vote for because they did that in the past and got burned because they were ridiculed for their choice or the one they told went and told others and eventually they got castigated for their choice. Perhaps deservedly so.

Various people I know have stated that they are going to vote for a particular person because he has cute hair (perhaps not the real reason). A secretary where I once worked said that she was going to vote Democratic in an upcoming election because her dad and family voted that way and so would she. That was the only reason she gave. A man I know was going to vote Democratic because in the past he had been a union man. A father I know said that at least he raised his kids to be good Democrats. What about being a good Christian?

You might find it interesting to see how many people you know are really more Democrat or Republican than Catholic when it comes to an election. In other words, they support their party more than the principles of the Church. Notice how many are more liberal or conservative than Catholic when it comes to voting. See how many support a particular candidate over morality. You might have noticed that voters will vote for a crooked politician time and time again, as long as they get what they want from him/her, such as more jobs in their district or even regular garbage pick-up.

Whatever happened to the common good? Recently I mentioned that and people said that the common good was a Catholic idea. It didn’t fit in politics. I think they might have been kidding. I hope so.

Bill Mewes is a Holy Cross Brother and Notre Dame graduate who has lived on campus for 20 or so years. He has taught on the secondary and university level, worked in social justice areas, as well as psychiatric social work and parish ministry. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.