The Republican primaries—most recently headlined by Rick Santorum’s surprising virtual dead heat finish with Mitt Romney in Iowa and Newt Gingrich’s apparent promise to throw the kitchen sink of epithets at Romney—have me thinking. Thinking about the nature of competition and what we really want from it.


When it comes to politics, I have been a Democrat, almost by birthright. Indeed, when I was very young, dinner-hour newscasts would show images of the Vietnam War and the civil rights battles and my party seemed to be on the right side of all of those bigger-than-life issues. The Dems were cool, open-minded, for equality and the little guy, and the Republicans were closed-minded, elitist, war-mongering xenophobes who only cared about big business and their own profits. One more not completely tangential point: The women of that era who gravitated toward the Democratic Party were much hotter—even if I did not know exactly what “hot” meant at that time, I had good eyesight.


Of course, as the world has gotten more complex and I have presumably matured, I don’t hold as tightly to those exact early perceptions. It has been a long time since I was enamored with the Democratic Party. As for the Republicans, the more things change…


By custom and default, the Democrats have remained my party—my team if you will. Every four years, I get geeked up to support my team in the Presidential elections. These elections, in some aspects, take on the same form as my personal competitions and my many vicarious ones, mostly spent rooting for the various Philly pro and college sports teams. By the way, my winning percentage is not all that high in Presidential and Philly sports competitions; personally, I’ve had my moments. Well, a few.



The first question I ask—that can be applied to all competitions—is this: In seeking victory, what do we want from our rivals?



Let’s talk about the Presidential race. Although I’ve always voted for my team in previous elections (my record is three wins and five losses), I was hoping to regard the 2012 election with more of an open mind.


In my mind, Obama has been a mediocre President in times that have demanded a much stronger leader. It’s almost a fact to say that he has been an improvement over the man who held the title for the previous eight years, and indeed, almost any administration would have struggled during these times. Still, I have not been impressed with Obama’s leadership, vision, transparency and backbone during the last three years. In theory, I would defect from party and custom if the right candidate emerged.


Therein lies the dilemma. Is it preferable to just win—as most of us don’t really have stakes in a particular party or candidate—or would it be better to face the most qualified candidate out there?


When I root for the Philadelphia Phillies, I love watching games against the best teams and best players—well, up to a point. If I know I’m going to win, I want to beat the best. If I’m not so sure of the outcome, I’d rather they play the weakest teams, at least on paper. That’s not noble, just honest.


To that point, does it really matter that the Phillies won the World Series in 2008—their first championship in 28 years—by beating the relatively unheralded Tampa Bay Rays? The very next year, the Phillies returned to the Fall Classic and lost—to the notorious New York Yankees.


Speaking of Tampa Bay, in 2004, the Eagles were making their third straight trip to the NFC Championship Game. They had lost their two previous such games; a win would advance them to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1981. Good fortune seemed to be smiling on my team when they earned the right to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a unit that “we” had owned in recent seasons—especially when the game was played in Philly. Of course, Tampa Bay won, and ended up winning the Super Bowl two weeks later.


Even though I am more a fan of sports than politics, something about presidential politics both repulses and attracts me. Call it the Lady Gaga Syndrome. I do get somewhat excited every four years, even as I detest the nature of political ads, political media coverage and what serves as political discourse.



The need-to-win competitor in me loves the fact that the Republican Party appears to be in total disarray. Candidates are dropping out, nobody has really warmed up to their presumptive frontrunner and won’t it be cool when Gingrich embraces his sleazy slide (as opposed to what, I’m not sure) and goes after Romney with both barrels.


Look, they’re imploding. Romney can’t win a general election, we’ll rip him apart. Santorum? A narrow-minded pretender: bring him on. Gingrich? Not a chance. Maybe, Sarah Palin will jump in. Boy, I’d love to see that.


Whoa, is this what I, and we, really want? A win at all costs? Political debates among semi-competents? The mediocre versus the pathetic?


Of course, the dynamics of Presidential politics are different from that of sports. When the Phillies lose (damn, those Cardinals), the victorious rival does not represent us. Our season is now over, and in fewer than six months, a new one begins. If Obama loses to Romney, or, gulp, Santorum or Gingrich, of course, the winner represents us—for at least four years.


So, Republicans, much as I admire your sideshow which has already featured Herman Cain’s alleged (non-youthful) indiscretions, Rick Perry’s various gaffes, Ron Paul’s weirdness and Newt Gingrich’s instability, please get your act together.


Yeah, truth be told, I want to beat you and up my record to four out of nine (Am I that old? Can’t be.) But, I don’t want to win ugly, and I’d like to see a good game. I’m not being noble—just honest.


There’s no guarantee that I’ll win. And then, what?


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