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Commentary by Liza Field
“When are the Games over?” my fellow lap-swimmer asked.
I stood up from the water and wondered, in a chlorine fog. “Which games?”
She reminded me that the summer Olympics had about run their course.
“Darn,” I nodded, realizing I would miss those Games that had dominated our news for weeks. They'd provided a merciful distraction from our fiercer rivalries and races that never seem to end.
For a brief time-out, we could find swimming, track or sailing headlines perched above the lopsided scoreboard of economic winners and losers, the ferocious 2012 campaigns and our head-locked political division tournaments.
We’d now get back to booing our sidelined lawmakers, wishing they would step up to the plate in a spirit of sportsmanship and defend Team USA more than their own positions.
“The games never end,” I reckoned, after we discussed this a bit. The other swimmer laughed.
She was a conservative Republican who always voted for a social values platform. I was an Independent, voting for any candidate willing to protect the environment. It was getting hard to find that candidate.
She conceded that “my issue” was important; she hated seeing God's creation go to ruin. But she could not vote for any “side,” she said, that was not “pro-life.”
I wondered about it as we continued our partisan lap-swim, lane by lane in the common waters. Was there a pro-life “side”?
The Big Race
These days, it seems that few lawmakers will take the side of life. Big life, that is—on the planet—the kind every little life depends on. This “issue” is vital to all teams, yet no side wants to back it.
Instead, the biggest private interests, with goals of short-term, personal gain, buy up public influence through lobbyists, fake-news outlets and political campaigns, investing billions to hamstring environmental protections and expecting strong returns.
How could the penniless tree toads, crawdads, mountains or children possibly compete for influence on such an uneven playing field, with its paid-off referees?
Replacing umpire with empire sounds great on the surface. Trophies and loot for all! The big players call it “freedom.”
After all, if we get rid of the rules (along with any objective officials), the old game of might-makes-right can determine the winners.
This game plan helps explain those sidelined lawmakers who refuse to play unless they can win. To concede points to some bipartisan team effort toward clean rivers, climate action or fracking regulations wouldn't win their campaign sponsors a competitive lead in the energy market.
So any such sportsmanship toward the underdog (wildlife, water, non-millionaires) is likely to get a lawmaker cut from that team in the next primary. Super PAC donors will find a different candidate to sponsor—one who'll play their game.
The War on Everything
These Citizens United heavy-hitters assure us pee-wee league Americans that big money in politics is fair play. Even transparency rules would amount, they say, to “a war on freedom.”
In fact, every public-spirited effort, these days, gets depicted as a “war.”
An old schoolmate of mine, working for a powerful consultant to big energy and timber corporations, uses the “war” tactic frequently in their efforts to defeat environmental protest, both local and global. It’s called “divide and conquer.”
If there's local resistance to gas-fracking or industrial timbering, for example, you simply incite community division: “Jobs vs. tree-huggers!” “People vs. bears!” This gets the locals turned on each other, duking it out until the timber is gone—along with any jobs.
Nationally, the EPA is likewise played up as our opponent, waging a “war” on coal, gas, oil, jobs, people. Americans vs. our own environment! Only one side can win!
End of Season
But who loses?
For decades, biologists have been sounding the final buzzer for thousands of species per year, in the alarming, ongoing mass extinction of our time.
Highly useful plants, insects, microbes and mammals: These have always been our teammates—not some alien league. They’ve kept the Earth's game going for millions of years, allowing humans likewise to flourish.
Pushing them off the planet’s playing field—forever—is a losing strategy.
Life thrives not by a “war,” biologists indicate, but cooperation between species, no one “team” eliminating the others, but helping keep the whole field in play.
We competitive Americans love to win. But at heart, we love the game far more.
Better sportsmanship, then, even conceding a few personal points at times just to keep things in play, might bring us the victory we're seeking—the kind that keeps the game alive.
Liza Field teaches English and philosophy in the Virginia Governor’s School and Wytheville Community College. This column is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.