The party of prima donnas

Obama is trying to build a country that works together like a great football team. The Republicans want to take their ball and go home.

Topics: Football, Republican Party, Democratic Party, U.S. Economy, Barack Obama, Super Bowl, Peyton Manning,

The party of prima donnas

Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, watched by 100 million Amerians, was one of the best ever played. The taut, suspenseful game was not decided until the final 35 seconds, when Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes made a catch for the ages in the end zone to give his team a thrilling comeback victory.

To watch that winning play, and the two had-to-score Arizona drives before it, was to see teamwork in magnificent action: Eleven athletes working together like parts of an intricate clock, each player’s success dependent on his teammates’, all joined together by a bond forged in the brutal two-a-day workouts in the dog days of August and over the course of the long, grinding season, all aiming at the same goal.

All non-individual sports require teamwork. But football presents that selfless ethos in its most dramatic form. It is a symphony of controlled chaos in which every player must play his part perfectly. The ferocious explosion at the line of scrimmage as the huge linemen collide, the peripheral blur of angular motion as the receivers race downfield and the cornerbacks lock onto them, and at the center of the storm the quarterback, scanning the field, needing his big guys up front to keep those inhumanly fast and strong defensive linemen off him for just half a second more, until his receiver comes free, and he hurls a tight spiral 100 feet downfield into a target the size of an LP and the receiver leaps, makes everything else in the world stop, sees the rotation of the football in slow motion, catches it and holds on as a safety whose body is made out of ironwood and has no conscience smashes into him like a baseball bat.

After he made the catch, Holmes hugged the ball with both arms, first on his knees, then lying flat on his back, almost in disbelief. And as he embraced quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the two men beaming at each other like little boys who had just started an eternal summer vacation, it wasn’t just those two players who owned the moment. Everyone wearing a Pittsburgh uniform owned a piece of it, and they will own it forever. Because they’re teammates.



One of the reasons that we are drawn to sports is because they let us experience this feeling. The emotion we feel celebrating a team victory, or watching teammates celebrate, or, for that matter, watching a losing coach pay tribute to his players, as Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt movingly did, is powerful confirmation of just how deeply seated a human instinct this is. Teamwork is literally inscribed in our genes. We are social animals. If cut off from other humans, we become warped and stunted. And part of our long evolution as human beings is the movement toward expanding the circle of those who count as part of our team, from our family to our tribe to our nation to all of our fellow humans.

Sports offers a miniaturized, idealized vision of teamwork. In the real world, of course — and even in the world of sports — things are not as simple. Co-workers stab each other in the back. Family members detest each other. Teammates don’t get along. Blue staters are suspicious of red staters. Republicans and Democrats don’t see eye to eye. We are social animals, but we are also profoundly individualistic, and the two impulses are often at war with each other. But the human instinct to cooperate, to work together, is real and powerful, and it is an ideal we all embrace. Without it, there would be no civilization.

Which brings us to our current moment. We are in a dreadful economic crisis, the worst in the lifetime of anyone who is under 70 years old. Forget the abstract statistic that millions of people are out of work and try to grasp this staggering reality: Twenty thousand jobs a day are being lost. Millions of people have lost their homes and their life savings. Countless millions have no health insurance. Businesses are failing at a staggering rate. Desperate states are shutting down services.

This is not a drill. These are real things that are happening to real people, people we all know. Everyone, whether they’re poor, working-class or middle-class, has either suffered themselves from the economic collapse or knows someone who has.

President Obama has responded to this emergency with a stimulus package that attempts to achieve two goals — one immediate and temporary, and one long-term and structural. The package is intended to spur immediate growth in the economy by infusing cash into the system’s frozen gears. But it is also intended to begin the far more profound process of transforming America. His plan provides big federal money to repair America’s schools and roads, lower healthcare costs, and make our energy policy sustainable. By giving Washington a much larger role in addressing our problems, Obama is implicitly making the point that government is not the enemy of individual freedom, but rather the embodiment of our shared interests — that it is not “it” but “us.” He is trying to turn America from a nation of isolated individualists into one that works together like a team.

Obama’s stimulus plan is no call for socialism. It is a far from radical hodgepodge, and there is much to criticize about it, whether you are a liberal or a conservative. No one expects every congressional Republican to sign off on it, or any of them to agree with all of it. But in this moment of crisis, it is reasonable to expect the opposition party to seriously engage with it, be willing to compromise, and where they disagree, come up with a coherent alternative plan. It is reasonable to expect them to work in good faith with the administration to help heal their badly wounded nation. It is reasonable to expect them to recognize that we are all in this mess together, and we must all work together to get out of it.

But instead, Republicans have taken their ball and gone home. Not a single House Republican voted for the stimulus package. Nor did they come up with an alternative plan. Their only prescription is more of the same poisonous medicine they have prescribed for decades: tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts for the rich and more tax cuts for the rich. In response to Obama’s call for teamwork, the GOP threw an infantile temper tantrum and walked off the field.

The GOP’s shamelessness, hypocrisy and civic irresponsibility is staggering. It would be one thing if they had never had a chance to implement their ideas. But the country has tried it their way, and it didn’t work. For decades, Republicans have pursued their philosophy of tax cuts, complete deregulation and blind faith in the wisdom of the market — and the results are to be seen all around us. Nor can they even claim consistency. During the Bush years, Republicans had no problem in voting for his huge government spending programs and swallowing the record deficits he ran up. But now that a Democratic president is proposing deficit spending, they have suddenly become doctrinaire anti-Keynesians.

In a healthy body politic, a national disaster inspires unity. When 9/11 happened, all of America pulled together — until George W. Bush’s rash policies ripped the country apart. The only silver lining of a crisis is that it calls up a sense of fellowship, of national neighborliness — of teamwork. We may be in a dreadful spot, but at least we’re all in it together.

Just as the Buddha only began his quest for enlightenment when he saw a sick man, an old man and a dead man, so often it is only suffering or danger that awakens our sense of fellowship with others. Perhaps it is just an atavistic instinct to survive, but when you’re hurt, you become more compassionate. All too often, prosperity and contentment anesthetize and atomize us. There is a reason why Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Facing a crisis far graver than this one, one of our greatest leaders called upon Americans to put aside selfishness and embrace a larger, more generous civic vision. In his first inaugural address, delivered in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit … These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men.”

And FDR called not just for new values, but for national sacrifice — for national teamwork. “If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other,” he went on. “That we cannot merely take, but we must give as well, that if we are to go forward we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline. Because without such discipline, no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.”

The late Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi couldn’t have put it better himself.

Americans responded to FDR’s appeal, and the economy responded to his New Deal. America pulled itself out of the Depression. And the great safety net of Social Security, one of our nation’s greatest achievements, was created.

In similar fashion, Obama is calling for an end to the institutionalized selfishness that reached its destructive height in the miserable presidency we have just witnessed. He is calling on us all to realize that not only is it morally right to care about our neighbors, it’s the best way to win. Just as a good football coach knows that his top priority is to get his team to play as one, rehabilitating the concept of “us” is at the heart of everything Obama is trying to achieve.

But today’s Republicans cannot understand the concept of “us.” Like their mean-spirited idol Rush Limbaugh, they would rather stand aside and watch America go down than abandon their rigid ideology. Convinced that all restrictions on “freedom” are dictatorial and pave the way to the “nanny state,” a bureaucratic Big Nurse in Washington determined to kill Americans’ independent spirit, they have become incapable of grasping that national unity can mean anything other than supporting the military and saluting the flag. For them, fellow feeling is to be manifested in charity only. Social justice is for bleeding hearts. Teamwork is communism.

Their position is painfully familiar. But at a time when Americans’ deepest instincts call out for cooperation, the Republicans have shown their true colors. They’re not flinty individualists, they’re prima donnas and head cases.

It may be beginning to dawn on most Americans that not just government, but teamwork itself, is an alien concept for the pinched, extreme ideologues who have taken over the Republican Party. That they hate the idea of government because it requires sacrifice and discipline, because it is about something larger than oneself, because it impinges on their infantile dream of total self-indulgence.

More tax cuts! You disrespected me! Government is evil! I’m holding out for more money! Democrats are bribing poor people to vote for them! Just throw me the damn ball!

It’s the fourth quarter and time is running out. And while the country rallies behind its quarterback, the GOP has become a party of Terrell Owenses, sulking, malingering and screaming at the coach. They’re a clubhouse cancer, and it’s long past time to cut them from the team.

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>