James E. Bowley is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. When it comes to the failure of our current politics, his letter to the editor published in today's Clarion-Ledger hits a nail on the head.
I hate this season of the year, which comes almost every fall, but especially every fourth year when we choose our president. I hate it because America has its games confused.
For a football fan, what could be better than the promise and possibility of the coming fall, of crushing the conference rivals and winning the championship? Unfortunately for Americans our political parties, our leaders, our pundits and far too many of us look at the November election the same way. We think one team will win and one will lose, and the winners will take all and the losers will just have to wait till next season.
Football and many other games have one winner and one loser because that is the way the games were designed. But our system of government is not such a game, and the rules of our great nation were not written to end with winners and losers. Our Constitution was written so that "teams" and individuals would have to face each other with their best arguments and then work together to make their best compromises and agreements. Why? Because our political game was designed for the benefit of all, so that victories could come to as many people as possible.
However, that's not the game I see being played this political season. Watching the campaign commercials and the conventions, I get the idea that we are on two sidelines of a gridiron, and come November one side will win, and the losers will be shamed and ground into the dirt, if possible.
I learn by watching that the other team's candidate is responsible for everything bad in my life and he will bring about more of everything bad.
And the situation is even worse on the blogs and talk-shows. They misunderstand the game.
Americans are not split into two teams in a zero-sum game of governmental power. We are all on the same American team and all the leaders we elect are leaders for that same team. During campaign season especially we should remember this.
True, both presidential candidates spoke a few kind words about each other in their nomination speeches. But both of them also went on to misrepresent the other's positions, and both of their speeches were surrounded by hours and days of bashing by other speakers. I wish each candidate had chosen a person from another party for their running mate.
I wish John McCain and Barack Obama would have appeared at the other team's convention to show respect and a promise of cooperation after November, no matter what happens. I wish there were a McCain-Obama ticket.
If we treat our November elections as if they were Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, then we have utterly defeated ourselves. This is not the United States of Republicans or Democrats, This is the United States of all Americans. In the game of politics, all of us are supposed to win. We do have real enemies. They include recessions, injustices, foreign threats and dwindling energy supplies. We need to conquer them. But we can only do it well together. When we don't work together on one team we fail, even as the Republicans and Democrats failed last fall to even begin to address our immigration crisis.
I challenge Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, Roger Wicker and Ronnie Musgrove, and all the other players and sponsors to rise above politics as a football game and to show us how to be Americans.