Politics is Intellectual Football (I’m a Confirmed Idiot #1)

Sometimes I have thoughts worth sharing, but I don’t share them because they are in various ways self-congratulatory.  If subtexts had vocal chords they might scream, “See!  Aren’t I great?”  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s a wonderful message which the world needs to hear.  It is just problematic when it is so obviously preached by me.  So sometimes I avoid ideas and messages worth sharing, things I believe in, that may help people, in the pursuit of looking like a nice guy.  But no longer!  I am starting a blog series called “I am a confirmed idiot.”  Basically, I am requiring myself to start any post containing obviously self-congratulatory subtext with a formulation in which I confess a unrelated humorously humiliating personal act.  This frees me to make my points with righteous passion, holding nothing back, for, as it says in Leviticus 27:35, “If you are humble for a moment, feast on the joy that comes from being full of yourself the rest of the time.”  Specifically, I will start these posts by saying, “I am a confirmed idiot.  After all, I once….” then I’ll tell of my stupidity, and I’ll end with “…however…”and then state my idea.  For example: 

I am a confirmed idiot.  After all, I once hit my friend in the head with a brick after excitedly bounding over to show her how high I could throw bricks.

However, unrelated to that, I do treat serious topics, like politics, the way that they should be treated, with marked levity.  Politics, for instance, is no fun unless you watch it like intellectual football, which I do, which is why I stay informed and will continue to stay informed.

I was talking to a friend today.  She’s smart, she cares about the world, and she wants nothing to do with politics because it is so depressing.  I feel like I talk to a friend like this once a week.

This is horrible.  We can’t be losing the attention of smart and loving people.  All we will have left are the angry, jaded, and unintelligent people.

Instead, we gotta make jokes and relish the clever games that politicians play.  We need it to be fun.

“But real lives are at stake,” they tell me.  “Exactly,” I respond, “that’s why we gotta enjoy the crap out of it.”

Alternatively, we can pay attention to non-depressings things that do not matter.  On Tuesday I had lunch with a fun group of African American ladies and a few of them got into a friendly and spirited discussion about the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons.  After some fightin’ words, and laughs, and more trash talk, I remained conspicuously silent.   Finally, I blurted it out, “I must confess.”  They stopped and stared as I paused and lowered my head, “I don’t watch football.”  They laughed their heads off.

Football is interesting.  There are personalities involved.  Sneak plays.  Talent.  Vanity.  Cleverness.  Aspirations.  Competitions.  Macho-ness.  Smackdowns.  Sometimes, when an enemy quarterback gets run over, you can’t help but bite your knuckles in delighted surprise.  Sometimes, a penalty gets called that you stand up from the couch to “boo,”  but when you see the instant replay close-up that shows your favorite lineman doing something very naughty, you also bite your knuckles in delighted surprise.

It’s a moment when my Honduran friend might rase his hand and say, “No [SNAP] he [SNAP] didn’t [SNAP]!”

Those ladies loved their football, even though football doesn’t matter.  What mattered is the entertainment value, and nobody is above that.

Fortunately, politics has all the drama of football, except it is more interesting because, obviously, something is at stake.  Like football, the smack-downs are usually obvious and well-reported.  For example, when Gingrich told Romney on last week’s ABC debate that the only reason he was not a career politician is that he lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994–good smackdown.  But here are two political plays that really made me bite my knuckles in glee (the best are always sneak plays):

Perhaps you saw it.  Last Tuesday, Newt Gingrich had a one-on-one debate with Jon Huntsman.  At first, Newt’s choice puzzled me.  Why would the frontrunner choose to elevate one of his opponents?  Ahhh… he wanted to elevate Huntsman because a Huntsman rise is likely to chip into Romney’s numbers rather than his own, and Romney is of course the bigger threat.  Did you see the new poll that came out today in New Hampshire?  Newt’s play picked up a couple of yards for him (and Huntsman).

Nice…I bit my knuckle with glee.

Perhaps you saw it.  Mitt Romney is running a TV spot in which he talks of debt reduction as a moral responsibility.  Ok.  No big deal, right?  Wait…am I crazy, or is this commercial really about Newt’s infidelity and two divorces?  (Note the happy couple at the end who have been married for an often mentioned 42 years.)  Without being negative, the ad turns personal morality into something which actually makes one better at fostering a good economy.

Oooh… well-played Mitt.  Well-played.

I am sure some of my readers will find these “sneak plays” depressing.  Some of those people might also be disgusted at me for how I find so much glee in them.  But I am more disgusted in their disgust than they are disgusted in me.  Enjoying the serious topic of politics as intellectual football is the only moral choice I know of that a loving and smart person is able to make.

So grab the popcorn, don your favorite candidate’s hat or over-priced t-shirt, gather some happy loud-mouth friends, and turn on the news.  The game never stops.

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About Jer Clifton

Look up, friend. The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone. View all posts by Jer Clifton

16 responses to “Politics is Intellectual Football (I’m a Confirmed Idiot #1)

  • Nick

    I like the “I am a confirmed idiot” series. It reminds me that we’re all Total Morons. (See http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html).

    Once again I suggest you watch The Ides of March. It makes the “political football” described above look like -flag- football. At VBS. With no ref. On a field of pillows.

    Ok I’m done. :]

  • Susan

    There’s absolutely no doubt that the “humble thing” gets in the way when we try to tell others our great ideas. I like your solution, the “I’m a confirmed idiot” statement. Nice end run in the game of blogging! And you’re right, if all the intelligent, loving people turn their backs on the game of politics, where will that leave us? Well said. Think I’ll start looking at the game more and laughing, too:) Merry Christmas to you and Alicia.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, this is Whit, and again, after a line-by-line audit of this desperate dribble I’d say you’re holding strong and steady at 84 or 83 percent rubbish. A few postings ago I bit my tongue, but tonight this wine works and I can no longer shackle this steady stream of poor quips and laser-sharp commentary that has been shuffling through my head ever since reading this abortion.
    Cheering for the Atlanta Falcons next game – helps them win: zero
    Following and making the right decision come presidential election time – helps that man (or woman [best joke I’ll make tonight]) get elected: 0.0000008.
    For all intents and purposes (by any comprehensible measure) everybody’s opinion on the election matters pretty much the exact same amount as caring about the next football game. And so if somebody doesn’t quite care so much for your brand of vice, so be it. In fact, screw proselytizing this pastime, you should encourage abstinence. Every person who you can convince not to care/vote moves your opinion a little useless amount up from the little useless amount where it started in the first place. Most Americans don’t vote because they’ve correctly deduced their vote really truly doesn’t matter; and math (the secret weapon of men and boys everywhere) is on their side.
    Which brings us to the real point of politics. And I would never accuse your sage samurai soul of this, but I believe most people follow politics for the same reason rams hit their faces against other rams faces – to create some sort of weird quasi-measurable base line from which to judge a persons intellect, reason, knowledge of history, and provincial biases. (which is totally fair, and it’s a game I like to play too.) But ask a batch of such cranially endowed debutants to name one local city councilman and suddenly you got a room full of pockets. Ask who has more power: the City Mayor, or County Sheriff, and abruptly your game of kings and poets is an unsupervised autistic child playing pin the tail on the jackass. People, not you, of course, but people, are way more likely to not vote when their vote is so more likely to actually make a difference. (i.e. local elections) I take this to mean the majority of the minority of folks who are following this shit-sandwich of a primary are, for it’s own sake, accumulating snotty opinions, who’s brevity, relevance and purpose is entirely self-serving . So don’t for a moment attach celestial badges and ribbons to this game and its players and it’s West-Wing watchin’ fans, and smirk in disgust at people who have decided to opt out. Quite appropriately, the universe will not notice if they are not playing or tuning in. We’re born in the second largest democracy the world has ever known and it is our luck and cross that mathematically we individually might as well not care about the affairs of higher state.
    Any economist and most saints I think would tell you that the minutes and hours one spends following the tricks and stratagems of political players is just as useless as following the NFL or DWTS; only one is even less likely to help you get laid then the others.
    (dude, I actually may have enjoyed this post immensely, but dude, you were just getting way too many well deserved compliments and I just get so uncomfortable when everybody is getting along so well. Peace.)

  • Nathan C. Clifton

    First off, someone is funny.
    I can’t help but think that this post was in some way directed at me. I have abandoned the political stands and now derive most of my enjoyment from sports. I have been reflecting for a little while on why this is and I think I have some reasons.

    1. When I watch professional sports I have very good reasons to believe that I am watching the best athletes in the world competing against other top athletes. Watching politics would be like if monday night football was played by whoever showed up thinking that everybody else should pay attention to them. I watch politics and I consistently think “Is this the best we can do?”

    2. Politics is not full contact. When I watch football I want to see the quarterback get hit. Politics is like watching linemen talk about how hard they will hit a quarterback should they be given the chance. Then the next guy goes “no I would hit him even harder!” Politicians should not be debating each other, they should be put in “political situations” and then told to react. “Mr President, Texas has declared independence! What do you do?” “Mr President, there is no more oil! What do you do?” “A visiting foreign dignitary has hurled all over your starched shirt and red tie! What do you do?” There should be a simulator that is televised. I don’t want to see my politicians beat up each other I want to see them smash the heck out of crime and unemployment which leads me to my next point.

    3. Politics has nothing to do with government. It is like saying the winners of the Super Bowl get to run fortune 500 companies. Yay! The popular guy won! Now he gets to make decisions about nuclear weapons!

    4. The scoring in politics stinks. Imagine a football game where, when time runs out, the audience is polled to think who was better. I followed the game the whole time, knew the plays being called and kept careful score but my opinion is worth the same as the lady in fur earmuffs behind me who thinks one teams colors clash. Popularity is an inherently depressing statistic because it clearly highlights the insanity of the masses.

    So, yes politics is depressing and I will care about it only when I vote, where I will go and cast my ballot for whoever is the most handsome because that is the only attribute that I can discern from a bunch of debates. (Sorry Newt)

    Maybe I need to watch debates with people. I am going to need some UK friends to sit with me and explain why Cricket is exciting. Maybe I need some political guides as well. That might be fun. Sit down to the debates with some popcorn and a few cold ones…that could be good. Almost as good as football 🙂

    Keep being the voice crying in the wilderness Jeremy!

    • JDW Clifton

      Absolutley. I gotta start watching political debates with beers and, and this is key, people who are cheering for the other team. Way more fun!

      Miss you man. I really enjoyed this exchange with you and eric.

  • Margaret

    Sigh. I think you’re right. I care about the world but want nothing to do with politics. Largely due to its depressing nature, I have absolutely no desire to follow it. But I think more people like me need to take an interest and I like how you’re bringing it a little more to my level.

    • JDW Clifton

      Margaret! Thanks for posting! Good to hear from you. Absolutely, anything a bit tedious and/or depressing you gotta have fun with…that is everybody’s level. Exercising is a great example.

  • Anonymous

    First, Nathan Clifton, no you sir, are funny. And secondly, you’re a regal voter of old, Newt Gingrich is a pumpkin head it’s so true, children want to carve it up so that they’re less frightened and teenagers want to smash it all over your driveway. Facts. And this eggnog also works, and I so so love eggnog.
    Now Jeremy, my snarky attack upon your dubious miscarriage may have been miss directed. And I know how much you hate being miss-understood, and I just hate it when my slander doesn’t cut to the wick of a man. Allow me to make amends. I’m thinking now that the true aim of that embryonic slop may have been to convince your captive audience that it is ok to mentally tackle grave topics, like politics, with your marked levity; that gaiety is the uniform of the day when grappling in the arena of public affairs. I can’t help but think of ol’ Winston Churchill mumbling smoky bubbles into your ear as you belched the finishing touches on that bloated zygote; “and if you can’t smile, grin, and if you can’t grin, get the hell out of the way until you can,” solidifying your notions final (and first) trimester with visions of wrought-iron helmets, Springfield rifles, sporting smiles, and shaftly bayonets.
    This type of slippery metaphor, beguiling assertions, curvy subtlety and voluptuous nuance is the sort of slight-of-hand that’s a pitch-perfect back drop to a Bernie Madoff wet dream, gently leading the readers mind down the sticky rabbit trail of the dumb and the doomed.
    Well no more, good sir. No more. Your Persian cohorts have found it’s Thermopylae, and no Benedict Arnold shall give away my flank through no mountain pass.
    Yes, soldiering in WW1 and politics are grave subjects to be sure, and I still stand by my homeboy Clausewitz that war is simply an extension of politics; both perched along the spectrum of societal coercion. But their semblances and unholy domestic partnership ends there. They are still qualitatively different, and so, require different attitudes and postures. It’s like the matrixy-rubric thing you made (you had a much smarter word for it) when you were trying to figure out which strategy to implement to turn around varying degrees of pauperized city blocks; so too is discretion needed in civilization coercion and the posture of it’s implementers. And vivacity and shenanigans are not suites for all seasons. At the end of the day, after an indignantly hectic day, full of gridlock and bullshit, Michelle can come and slip her arms around her husband and whisper in his ear that everything is ok. You’re safe and sound Barack Obama, the sun will come up in the morning. True and calming words. But for the soldier in the trench, such solace there is not, nor should there be. No! everything may not be ok. He might die a painful death before the morning but not before he watches the friends he loves do the same. So when a soldier gives his last salute to Churchill, turns, lowers his visor and levels his lance, it is entirely appropriate for him to remark to his comrades that Geneva would be after him if he were to raise his other lace because that would be using a weapon of mass destruction. For him, Winston’s soldier, if competent and good in his trade, all that is left for him is to fight with passion and mirth. In fact, it’s the only chance he has if he is to return home with both body and soul intact. But for the troop of generals and politician that sent this young man into the fray, into the mouth of death, into the gates of hell, it is not too much to expect of them a bit of sobriety, civility, and to maybe cut down a bit on the pageantry. Because at the end of the day, for all of these candidates in the republican primary, no matter who wins – it’s going to be ok. With all the bravado and campaign rhetoric and fervor, it might feel like a gladiatorial match, but it really is not. All might be fair in love and war, but politics is neither. Shouting a slogan at some one is actually kinda the exact opposite as shooting that person in the face. (Actually I guess a hug would be; but still a strong dichotomy all the same.) Not all grave and weighty subject should be played lightheartedly or with whimsical childish ferocity. Combat and football requires a suspension of typical standards of humanity, (grown men tackling other men on public TV is odd after all) but politics should not. So it is not at all unfair for the American people to expect our future leadership to behave with manners and just a smidgen of integrity; to believe the elected and the electorate should act like it’s not just a bawdy game of yahtzee at the lake house.
    But of course they won’t, because they never have. However that still doesn’t change the fact that we, as simple citizens, have the prerogative to wince in disappointment at every gimmick, game, antic and cheap shot that gets thrown out, and maybe reflect upon how head-over-heals desperate this race is in need of a savior.
    Marry Christmas.

    • JDW Clifton

      I wish I could respond to each point….but there are too many. Let me say this though: you had me and then you lost me when you said that “Americans are right to expect a measure of integrity…” blah blah. But my point is purely practical. When people put too much stock in the political process, it will always dissapoint, and they will likely become those people who scream meaningless slogans at others. What I am championing is something along the the lines of sporadically-attached enjoyment of the political process, more in the realm of Jon Stewart than Keith Olbermann, though Stewart probably enjoys himself too much, which is fine, as he is a comedian. I am afforded the luxury of not having to entertain everyone with my every word and thought. I just have to keep myself entertained, which is REALLY easy I feel, comparatively speaking.

      So you are right, this enjoyment of politics must be unlike a soldiers brilliant and desperate enjoyment of battle. We take a page from the book, certainly, but not the whole damn book.

      Hey, I really enjoyed the exchange with you and Nathan. Hilarious!

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