By: John Zogby
Affixed to the backstop of the St. Anthony Little League Stadium in Utica, NY was a small and not terribly pretty sign that simply said: "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." This was where I played Little League in the late fifties, a simpler time. Sure, we were scared stiff of nuclear war, the Russians, being able to keep up with our neighbors, and dad keeping his job during "factory layoffs". Ike was President and Speaker Sam Rayburn and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson controlled Congress. One was a Republican, the others were Democrats. But that didn't seem to matter. They were our leaders and we believed them. They were not ideologues but somehow we got balanced budgets, enough money for social programs, the first Civil Rights Act in nearly 100 years, the desegregation of public schools, and a successful space program.
And this was before Vince Lombardi became a national icon. Because sports weren't like politics, to a great degree: winning wasn't the only thing, it was how you play the game. These folks understood that and, more importantly, we understood it, too.
There has always been a genius to having a two-party system - especially when both parties recognize the right to exist of the other. As so many things all around us are falling apart or changing dramatically, both the Democrats and Republicans are leading the way into their respective oblivion. Each side digs in and speaks for their base as if only their base is "the American people". And now every issue becomes a battle and every battle can mean Armageddon if the other side "wins".
Ironically, the only point of consensus is that there is just one way to attack the problems of war and peace, expanded civil rights, job creation and development, terror, health care, education and the environment. And the "one way" is neither the Democratic way nor the Republican way. It is through compromise, discussion, healthy debate, attending dinners and luncheons together, playing golf and basketball, or poker, sharing a mint julep or a Makers Mark, and so on. It is about relationships, camaraderie, and collegiality.
I think this past week has been an encouraging one. The President seems to have gotten comfortable enough to extend the invitations to powerful rank and file Senators and a very important Congressman. And they have not only accepted the outreach, but welcomed it, enjoyed it, and even praised it. As they all should. Resolving this fiscal crisis was never simply a Democratic or Republican solution. It was never about only reforming the tax code and cutting the budget, nor was it all about modest cuts and taxing the "wealthy". Balancing the budget was always about just that: balance. Weighing what was sustainable in the short term to prevent another economic crisis against what is fair, more sustainable, and puts the U.S. on the road to eventual higher growth and sustainable finances.
So I am more hopeful this week. I like the fact that both sides are engaging and at least projecting to the public that they think it is the right thing to do.
Several years ago, my very good friend and fellow Upstate New York resident, Curt Smith, wrote a Time Life book commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame in nearby Cooperstown. Curt, formerly a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and now a professor at the University of Rochester, asked me for a short piece on the meaning of baseball to me. I ended my short vignette by saying that so much in life for "us Baby Boomer guys comes down to the lessons and hurts we experienced from Little League." In preparing this post, I drove to the old stadium and found that it looks great, but the old sign is down. That is too bad for a lot of reasons.
But 50 years after I last saw that sign, perhaps somebody has internalized its message. Maybe they have finally learned that really winning is only about how you play the game.