Splinter Olympics

I’m an Olympics junkie. I finally came to terms with that fact after spending most of my Saturday watching curling and cross-country skiing. It’s difficult to explain why I get so excited over a two-week period every four years watching sports that I could care less about the rest of the time. I don’t think it’s because Bob Costas is constantly telling me how epic it all is, though I am convinced he possesses malevolent powers – that’s the only logical explanation for his ubiquity and staying power.

I think it’s because of how important the Games are to the people participating. You see the very best in the world at their respective disciplines vying for the most important honor they can achieve – Olympic Champion. We can’t help but rejoice in the accomplishments of the victors and empathize with those who fall short because the emotions they emit are so strong and clear that they reach out through our TV or computer screen and across the globe to capture our attention and imagination.

For many people that kind of raw, honest passion seems to be missing in dealing with the most critical policy issues facing the country. Most of us don’t trust anything our elected leaders say; we see ulterior motives in all of their actions. For the most part this distrust is justified. However, the common reaction on the part of Americans to tune out all things political, and thus turn away from participating in anything having to do with how our country is run, puts all the power in the hands of those who take the time to get involved. These typically tend to be those on the fringes of both ends of the political spectrum.

Unlike the Olympics, we are not mere spectators in this instance; the outcomes will significantly affect us. In this case we cannot afford to just tune in once every four years. While we sit on the sidelines, rapid partisanship and short-sightedness is splintering the country.

While athletes pushed the limits in Vancouver, the CPAC conference in Washington last week saw conservative politicians and right-wing stalwarts go to extremes in pursuit of fame and glory. Those organizing and attending CPAC represent the conservative core of the Republican Party. The annual event is the Olympics of the conservative movement, where aspiring politicos look to make their name and experienced hands cement their positions as leaders and influentials. The event featured rousing speeches by the likes of Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Andrew Breitbart, and Ann Coulter. The speeches were laced not only with attacks on Democrats, but also with digs at Republicans who are not sufficiently conservative. Ron Paul was the surprise gold medalist, winning the presidential preference straw poll among conference attendees.

This year’s conference featured a new sport – outreach to the burgeoning Tea Party movement. I think the Tea Party movement has attracted a great deal of support from people who are not nearly as conservative as its core because it taps into many voter’s desire for a raw, passionate, populist, underdog quest for the gold. It is a sort of organic alternative – locally-grown and untainted by the additives associated with the major parties. It will be interesting to see if the movement, driven by populist anger at the major party duopoly that is seen as static and corporate-driven, will survive as it matures into a major force that resembles what it opposes. I have my doubts.

To be sure, the left has its share of splintering as well. Liberals have lambasted the president for pursuing bipartisan collaboration and have disparaged moderates in their own party who have not fully supported the most progressive policies.

Long after the flame has been extinguished in Vancouver, the Splinter Olympics will continue. Those games will not produce any real winners. Instead, we need fresh new sports based on bringing Americans together.


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