Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football? And Serious Government?

These have to be the two biggest money deals being negotiated concurrently in history!

The first one, which appears to be concluded is the NFL owners lockout of its own players. I don't know about you, but waiting for billionaires (owners) to come to terms with millionaires (the players) really left me a bit ambivalent. On almost any labor deal you can generally count on me to come down on the side of the players. And they do have an argument. For a moment, lay aside issues like the rookie salary cap, or revenue sharing; concerns about two-a-day practices, post-career health care benefits, or whether or how often players practice in pads or 'go live' in practice are legitimate - especially since there will be (count on it) an 18 game season. But it should be added, these are changes that owners could have made outside of a collective bargaining agreement. Actually coaches could have made the changes without much consult of the owners.

But, I'll confess, I'm a fan and although I consider the business side of sports fascinating at times, I was just ready to get it over with and get on with preparation for the season! Was there really a soul who thought that either owners or players were going to actually lose money when there was absolutely no reason to?

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And, of course, the other big money game has been the ongoing, exhausting debate on whether or not/how to raise the nation's debt ceiling. While the August 2 deadline looms ever larger, the arguments of who walked out of what negotiating session; who's talking toughest; who's more effectively using fear tactics; and who has decided that actual negotiation and compromise are appropriate to a national debate of this substance and consequence has been amazing. What is actually in question - or should be - is whether or not we have adults who recognize that nothing in terms of policy, fiscal or otherwise, can get done unless there is compromise and consensus.

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Ridiculous notions that we can default on our debt and simply pay the interests on money that we've borrowed, all the while maintaining our country's credit worthiness, is the worst sort of pandering. And, the fact that there are those who actually make laws and policy willing to court worldwide economic disaster after seeing what happened in 2008, should not only bring into question their sanity but their character as well.

I think we heard the disrespect of the current president reach a new high (new low?) when John Boehner said that he, 'has the same responsibilities as the President'. Were that the case,  the Speaker of the House of Representative serve as President. Or, bare minimum have we would simply rotate the presidency among the members of Congress!

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Have we reached a nadir in politics when we have so tied ideology to the legislative policy that gridlock actually becomes an option employed to build bridges to nowhere AND bring our country to its economic knees? If so, the new low to which government is now sinking, in which differing parties can debate, negotiate, even play hardball, but in the end put the nation's interests first, is a low that will further lead us to ruin. Frankly, I'm more afraid of passing this model of governance on to our grandchildren than I am 'saddling' them with our debt.

Believe it or not, there are some similarities between these two high dollar, high stakes games of chicken:

Both involve an conclusion that include/will include solutions that were available at the start of 'negotiations'. If what comes out of either process was 'the best deal process' why didn't we start there?! In fact, just as you really never needed to include the end of two-a-day practices and optional training activities (OTA's) in a collective bargaining agreement, you really don't need to tie long term major entitlement and tax reform to a debt ceiling vote. It's as if the same adults who recognize they have gone too far now determine that knowing what's right, they need an external force to make them do the right they know.

Both big money deals involve legitimate issues on both sides. While there are always dramatic periods during any negotiations, there is a tipping point where the public gets to decide. The public actually knows how to not support sporting events - baseball learned that, the NBA (foolishly following the NFL model of player lockouts) is learning it as well. In politics the public will tire of the nonsensical ideological posturing. The landscape of political history in our country is littered with the bones of 'movements' which changed the framework of government only to find that framework untenable and the 'movement' marginalizing itself into irrelevance in the minds of an informed and disenchanted electorate.

Finally, both big money games are having to bow to the fact that times have changed - although one much more quickly than the other. Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry are gone - no matter how legendary and how beloved. So are Jim Brown and Jerry Kramer. In their place are athletes for whom professional football is a year round job making billions, if not trillions, of dollars for themselves, the owners and advertisers. Players must have greater provisions for their long term safety and the game has to modify the impact of its most violent aspects. The collective bargaining agreement has to reflect that. It will and the game can continue to be the entertainment it has been to new generations of fans.

Politically the game has changed as well. We have to think differently about entitlements and taxes. We have to do the hard work of preserving the social compact to which we have all come to depend and provide a stable environment for business to operate. But we also have to reject the notion that all government can or should do is provide bare minimum protection while creating an atmosphere in which business does virtually whatever it wants to achieve a profit. Achieving the proper balance that recognizes that we are all the lesser when government doesn't provide an atmosphere of opportunity and accountability for all of its citizens is hard work. This is not work that can be done by ideologues and intransigents. It's can only be done by adults who know that too much is at stake to fail.

So we'll have football this season...whether we'll have a government that works is still up for 'negotiation'.

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