As the Super Bowl ascends and the teams take their places on the gridiron, leaders rise up and bask in the glory of an America that loves a noble leader. They love him or they love to hate him, but all Americans today love watching Peyton Manning. Many of those same people don’t know the name of the vice president or speaker of the House.
Peyton Manning might annoy some, but not his own offensive line. Instead of blaming them for mishaps on the field, he takes responsibility for those and lavishes his linemen with gifts, like expensive watches and custom tailored suits. He understands one thing: Without them, he never completes a pass.
Lao Tzu said “a leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’”
The hard truth is that Americans are far more captivated by football than politics.
Football won’t put money in their pockets or food on their tables. Football didn’t free the slaves or bring us through Sept. 11. Football doesn’t win wars or protect our homeland.
Still, the truth is undeniable …
Approximately 33.5 million people watch the president’s State of the Union address. But 108 million watch the Super Bowl.
It gets even more peculiar.
An overwhelming majority of football fans identifies as “strong Christians.” That number is even more staggering when you venture into the South and consider SEC football. There it is all about God and football.
But only 50 percent of those same professed Christians who warm the church pews Sunday even bother to vote in a general election, according to Pew Research. While as many as 55 percent of American women watch the Super Bowl, Pew Research says only 20 percent of Christian women even vote in a general election. Those same numbers are even more abysmal for primary elections.
And yet, as Ellen Van De Mark points out in her CNN post this week, “a political primary in America is much like a football season. Top players are chosen through a series of nominations, caucuses, and conventions … (then) once the field is narrowed and the top players are positioned as starters, it’s a jumble of fumbles, interceptions, setbacks and small victories until the top two candidates make it to the general election” – the Super Bowl.
This phenomenon has political consultants scratching their heads, trying to figure out the trick of capturing the hearts of the American electorate the same way that football seems to carelessly capture those same hearts and devotion.
The nature of politics is that each side must take credit for things it has and has not accomplished. If things go well politically, each side scrambles to say it was its own win. In football, one team wins, and the losing team isn’t trying to take credit for the game. It’s just over.
Maybe that is the essence of the mystery that attracts so many more Americans to football and not to politics.
Politics never ends. Political leaders grab credit like the Cookie Monster hoards cookies, and never offer a bite to the American people who got them there.
This leaves the grassroots – those who really got the politicians there in the first place – feeling disillusioned and used. Then, like a well-blocked scene from a Broadway play, the players predictably screw up and blame everyone else. This breeds a further cynicism that drives others away.
Maybe the political game and clash is just too hard, for too long, and it wears on the patience of the American patriot. Certainly a lack of real leaders, the old kind – the Pattons or the Washingtons or the Teddy Roosevelts – may be the culprit. Maybe it is their semblant extinction that has taken the personal obligation of civic duty out of the American heart and replaced it with the more palatable, better led game of American football.
Reagan, the collocate leader of modern-era politics, said, “If you can’t make them feel the light, you should make them feel the heat.”
Today, both sides bribe, compromise their values and make asses of themselves in broad daylight to win the American vote (and to feed their addiction power and prominence).
The American people scoff.
In Forbes’ Entrepreneur section, Ekaterina Walter outlined “7 Unconventional Behaviors of Inspiring Leaders.” Among them are:
- Taking the blame
- Disregarding conventional wisdom
- Shutting up
- Inviting naiveté
I noticed upon interviewing her, that while great leaders in sports employ most of these, leaders in politics rarely do. However, when they do, it seems to set the tone for great legacy.
Taking the blame: The most failed administration since Carter, the Obama cronies, fail to take responsibility for anything. Contrast President Truman, who said, “The buck stops here.” He was willing to take blame. Today’s politicians don’t. They infamously pass the buck, and that is why the American population becomes cynical and can’t respect them as leaders.
Disregarding conventional wisdom: Reagan disregarded conventional wisdom with fluency. He used rumors of mental instability to disarm Russians and end the Cold War. His aides would whisper (often over vodka) to Reagan’s Russian counterparts that the old guy really was crazy enough to “push the button.” Not conventional.
Shutting up: Malcolm Forbes said the art of conversation lies in listening. Lincoln and his “Team of Rivals” not only invited his opponents to the table, but he shut up and listened to them. This endears Lincoln to the American people to this day.
Inviting naiveté: The political trick to inviting naiveté would be to rid the parties of the overpaid, bromidic consultants and use unconventional wisdom instead of old line politicians. Some argue that Kennedy was ultimately assassinated for bringing inexperienced, traditionally apolitical people into his Cabinet. His legacy as a leader is rarely questioned today.
Disappearing: Teddy Roosevelt took extended trips to the Wild West to hunt buffalo and bear. While secretary of war, he went down a hill, hopped on a horse and led a unit of soldiers in the Cuban war. No one would question his ability to “create white space” and “disappear” as a true leader and winner of the American heart. Roosevelt rocked. He went on to found the National Parks system and broke up the trusts, showing tremendous courage against enemies foreign and domestic.
No doubt, the politicians who will line the primary field in the next election will have watched the Super Bowl. Perhaps they can take a page from the game that has captured the heart of Americans, and win some hearts for civic involvement next go ’round.