Racing has always been the most lucid teacher, revealing hard truths with each carving stride. The ways of God are more mysterious, as Ryan Hall has discovered since departing Coach Terrence Mahon and the Mammoth Track Club two years ago. Racing is a heartless examination. It is why the reality of one’s times are indisputable, inviolate and undeniable, as Republican Veep candidate Paul Ryan has learned after fibbing (by an hour!) about his one completed marathon in 1990. Finishing times don’t ask how, whether or if, they only reveal the full measure of the effort between Point A and Point B, unmoved by consequence, conditions or commerce. If only the rest of life were so stark, so pure, so honest.
Today, as we enter the final stretch of the Race for the White House, we are reminded once again that the game, as played in Washington D.C., is blood sport conducted by parties more interested in outcome than process, in demonizing rather than in engaging in honest debate.
In politics hard truths are rarely, if ever revealed, as candidates, small and large, play to the base instincts of envy, distrust and denial. Purposefully skewed truth is the currency of value, and the consequential cynicism of the populace is, evidently, an acceptable by-product as long is victory is achieved. Of course governing becomes a victim of the electoral process as opposition machinery is immediately tuned to the next election cycle. But that doesn’t seem to upset the movers and shakers whose goals are narrowly cast along the win-loss continuum.
In the 2012 campaign “You didn’t build that” has emerged as the signature catch-phrase that captured the fluid dynamic of truth and consequences. On July 13th, President Obama gave a speech at a fire station in Roanoke, Virginia, making his case for increasing marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, framing his argument in terms of shared responsibility.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that (my emphasis). Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
The speech went unnoticed at first, but then was picked up by the media, and the phrase “You didn’t built that” took on a life of its own as Republican operatives began equating it with the building of businesses rather than the building of infrastructure. The truth held no sway, because the truth would eliminate the advantage an untruth could facilitate to a fevered base which had long since forgotten, if ever even been taught, such grammatical imprecisions as dangling modifiers.
Once again foot racing serves as a useful metaphor. The running world equivalent of “You didn’t build that” would be to tell a professional runner: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great coach somewhere in your life. Somebody helped create this unbelievable sport that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in running events. If you have been a successful racer – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. Running events didn’t get built on their own. Enterprising individuals created this circuit of events so racers could make a living off its prize purses.”
Yes, you did the training. Yes, you do the racing. But the “That” that you didn’t build was the structure of events upon which to display your training and racing acumen. You can go out to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Staten Island any day of the year and run through the five boroughs of New York City into Central Park for 26.2 miles. But it’s only on one day of the year that the roads will be closed, timing devices set up, aid and medical stations manned, and TV and prize money there to record and reward your efforts. It’s that platform that you didn’t build. With government, it’s the infrastructure – roads, bridges, airports, armies, yes, the internet – we, as individuals, didn’t and couldn’t build, but were constructed as a collective effort for the betterment of each to take advantage of as best as we could.
Point is, we need both the races and the racers to make the sport work. That the two political parties remain determined to reduce their arguments to an existential choice between one or the other is why our current political model will not work for any of us, no matter who wins in November. And if we don’t rebuild it with an understanding that both impulses, right and left, are necessary to keep the nation at an even keel, then the great Ship of State which has been bequeathed us will continue to founder.
Today, we remember crashing planes and falling buildings with heavy hearts. It’s one thing for others to do it to us. But isn’t time we stopped tearing ourselves down from the inside, as well?