Howard Rich's Blog

August 19, 2008

Olympic-Sized Indifference

Filed under: Uncategorized — howierich @ 5:36 pm
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With eight gold medals in eight events – and seven new world records – U.S. swimming sensation Michael Phelps has single-handedly transformed the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing into a defining national experience.

“Phelps (has) captured the imagination of millions – perhaps billions – of fans,” one sports columnist recently wrote.

Indeed, the historic performance turned in by this twenty-three year-old swimmer – and America’s down-to-the-wire Olympic medal race with the Chinese – has fueled a nationalistic pride not seen since the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics, when an overmatched U.S. Hockey team shocked the world by defeating the seemingly indomitable Soviet Union.

As was the case in Lake Placid, New York, twenty-eight years ago, today’s symbol of American triumph comes at a time we sorely need something to cheer about.

Our country finds itself once again plagued by energy and economic woes, record inflation, rampant deficit spending and an increasingly tenuous position in a rapidly-changing world. If anything, we are on more precarious footing today than we were two decades ago, particularly given the elusiveness of a new terrorist enemy abroad and our leaders’ total failure to get our fiscal house in order at home.

Social Security and Medicare bankruptcies loom just over the horizon, our innovation gap is widening, our currency is plunging, our tax burden is growing and our education system continues to fall further behind the rest of the industrialized world.

And despite millions of dollars in ad spending during these 2008 Olympics by politicians claiming to have the antidote to what ails us – or more precisely, reasons why their opponent doesn’t have the antidote – there is mounting evidence that no one is listening.

Much like the “boy who cried wolf” or a background noise we’ve become accustomed to hearing over time, the pleas of presidential candidates and lesser politicians are falling on deaf ears.

Sure, people are being bombarded with a record number of campaign ads and election-related reports, but all indications are that these multi-million dollar messages and carefully-choreographed spin cycles are sliding across the surface of the American consciousness, failing to penetrate the preoccupied minds of a populace eager for tangible accomplishments.

According to a Rasmussen poll taken last week, when given the choice twice as many Americans said they would rather watch Olympic coverage than political news.

Perhaps even more telling, the same poll revealed that only 42% of Americans can remember having seen a political ad during the Olympics, despite the fact that presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have dumped a combined $11 million into Olympic advertising this month.

In other words, the authentic achievements of athletes like Michael Phelps are far more interesting and inspiring to us than the partisan bickering and platitudes of even our most famous politicians.

Sadly, this isn’t at all surprising in a country that holds its current President and Congress in unprecedented contempt. Nearly half of America believes George W. Bush will go down as the worst chief executive in our nation’s history, while Congressional approval ratings are presently hovering at 14% – their lowest mark ever.

Obviously, at the heart of this “Great American Tune-out” is a fundamental loss of faith in government.

We are eager for economic and personal security, yet our leaders have given us neither.

Washington politicians have blown through trillions of dollars that could have gone toward growing our economy in recent years, while steadily encroaching on our liberties in the name of “securing” a Homeland which they expose to unnecessary danger due to their short-sighted energy policies.

Millions of American workers are pouring billions of dollars into a Social Security program that will go bankrupt long before they retire, while their health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket thanks to Medicare, another candidate for bankruptcy.

Our classrooms continue to produce dropouts by the hundreds of thousands despite a massive government-funded commitment to “leave no child behind.” And the staggering social cost of these dropouts is mirrored by the staggering costs our best and brightest must pay to get a higher education, a goal that gets further out of reach for most families by the day.

In almost every way imaginable, our government has failed us. Is it any wonder Americans are now changing the channel in search of real heroes?

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