The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street crowds are bookend political movements – one on the far right, the other on the outer left – each believing America has gone off-track and in need of reform.  Both movements believe passionately in their direction, and yet both have fundamentally misread the basic problem facing America.  And in their assumptions we see a reflection in the state of affairs in the running world, as well.

While there is a national crisis in unemployment in the near term, and a disappearing path to the middle class for the current and coming generations  in the long term, both sides are saying what we need is a ‘fundamental change in this country’ to right these wrongs.  For one side, that means throttling the spending of the government to rev up the engine of the market.  For the other it is requiring the increasingly wealthy top 1% of the economic food chain to contribute more to the commonweal.

The fundamental error both sides have made is in their assumption that what needs to happen in the U.S. alone can create the change they seek.  It is the rest of the world that has fundamentally changed, even as we’ve remained tethered to a past that no longer exists.  Though we remain the world hegemon — for the time being, both economically and militarily — the days of unilateral action affecting world-change are over.

We’ve witnessed similar changes  in the running world.  During the 1970s and `80s boom years, the sport was relegated to First and Second World athletes, and we became used to 2:09 – 2:10 marathons as representing world-class. But now the talented and extremely hungry athletes from the rest of the world are playing, and 2:09 is a mile off the back.

Similarly, when much of the world was trapped beneath the communist yoke or coiled in colonial rule, a certain stability existed in the political and economic realms – no matter how mad that equilibrium may have been beneath the threat of a nuclear holocaust, or how callous under the paternal hand.  The old systems helped maintain U.S. supremacy in manufacturing and markets as the rest of the world engineered a stagnancy born of state control or European socialism.  Now the lid is off, and the rest of the world is competing – primarily in countries like China, India, and Brazil – hungry for what they’ve always seen we’ve had.

So it’s not that we have to change what’s wrong at home, though stripping down, becoming more focused would help yield some improvements.  As long as the whole world competes, we aren’t going to dominate.  So the inference of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, that we are the sole custodians of our destiny, is flawed. Whether we like it or not, we live in an inter-dependent world, and at present the world means business.

For the Occupy Wall Streeters, economic redistribution isn’t going to create new jobs – though it might feel better. And Tea Partiers better remember that it was because government in the 1990s removed constraints on banking that we ended up with the housing bubble which we are still paying for today. Which is why oversight is always necessary.  And though government continues to spend beyond its means, we should all understand that we long ago dismantled what social safety nets that existrf before the Nanny State was initiated under the New Deal. These circumstances didn’t arise out of the 2008 election cycle, they’ve been brewing for decades.

And with the wages and want as they are elsewhere in the world, we Americans are finding out how the free globalized market can also have devastating consequences back home.  Why would American manufacturers willingly pay higher labor and material costs at home when the free market – upon which America was built – says, ‘maximize profit by cutting costs’? We are being hoisted on our own petard, as the old saying goes. One American Dream is trumping another, and we can no longer have it both ways.

In the immediate post-war years the American auto industry could afford lavish union contracts, because we were the sole manufacturers.  The auto metaphor is apt.  The first generation car dealer builds the dealership. The second generation expands the business, and the third drives fast cars wearing Italian loafers. That’s what we’ve become. And then we get our backs up when challenged.  We chose not to educate our young. We chose to vote ourselves entitlements, and then to globalize the workforce which robbed us of the means to afford those entitlements.

As Japan recovered from WWII – through America’s aid – globalization began its inevitable rise. When China opened up in 1978 the pace accelerated.   And as technology improved, so did our productivity, to the point where the advancements supplanted the need for costly workers. To date, there has been no replacement model developed to deal with this new world order. And until we find that answer, it won’t matter who occupies Wall Street or which party, Tea or otherwise, gets elected.



  1. Don,

    Thanks for the reply, and I certainly knew that entering a political discussion was risky. Just the same, what I wasn’t clear enough about was the distinction I’ve always seen between the “activity” of running – what you describe as the Boston Marathon and Peachtree, etc. selling out in 8 hours – as opposed to the state of the “sport”, the public awareness of racing at high levels.

    I find it ironic that as the activity of running continues to gain adherents, the country at large continues to grow, well, larger. Study after study shows the continued decline in health, especially among the young. And that’s where I think sport can help. People come to running in their late 20s, early 30s when they realize they aren’t invincible anymore. But what of the early lack of physical education? I would like running to produce more publicly recognized heroes, track and roads, to help inspire an earlier approach to a life of activity.

    Just like American exceptionalism in other arenas, the long arc of history had placed America in an advantageous position in the middle of the 20th century in the sporting world, and America took full advantage. Times and circumstances change.

    So the question now is: Given those changes, is there value in leveraging the healthy state of the “activity” to re-ignite the “sport” in order to tie-in the interest of the young and vulnerable? Or do we just simply wait and let those that that do come to running do so at their choosing alone, and forget the others?

  2. Toni,
    I admire your courage in tackling political issues, but my advice is to not quit your day job!! Why is it that people who deny American exceprionalism in every other endeavor, expect/want it in sport?? You sound a bit like Miniver Cheevy, longing for “days of old” and I would suggest you follow Miniver’s approach.
    You and others seem to feel the halcyon days of our sport are long past because of the dimunition of international awards garnered by our athletes, but in those halcyon days did Boston/Peachtree sell out in 8 hours, Beach to Beacon in 45 minutes, were there hundreds of “inaugural races” each year and was the best attended breakout session at annual conferences titles “What to do when you sell out?/”
    If we are, in fact, one sport then we have more money being pored into it than ever before and we leaders have not figured out how to channel it properly. The sport is healthier than ever.

  3. Toni,
    I admire your courage in tackling political issues, but my advice is to keep your day job!! My only political comment would be “Why do those who deny American exceptionalism in every other endeavor expect/want it in sport?” You sound a bit like Miniver Cheevy “longing for days of old”. My best advice is to practice Miniver’s approach.
    You and a number of leaders in our sport seem to feel the halcyon days of our sport are behind us, because of a dimunition in the number of international awards garnered by our athletes, but in those halcyon years did the Boston Marathon/Peachtree sell out in 8 hours?? or Beach to Beacon in 45 minutes?? Were there hundreds of inaugural races each year?? Was the best attended breakout session at national conferences – “What to do when you sell out?”
    Let’s assume that all that is needed to develop athletes is more money to provide facilities, coaches, competitions, reasearch, etc., then why doesn’t the leadership spend some time trying to figure out how to tap into the billions that are expended in our sport annually and channel more of it into development. Our sport is healthy, growing and financially sound, it’s just the organizations “managing” the sport who have financial/organizational problems..

  4. Toni,

    I greatly enjoyed reading your article, and for three reasons:

    1) It eloquently and concisely addresses the issue.

    2) You relate it to running – appropriately and accurately.

    3) It is encouraging (in other terms, simply fulfilling) that one of the most well-known voices in our sport can also relate and inform those of us who connect to you via our love of the sport to the greater issues going on in society

    All the best!

    Josh Merlis

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