Down And Distance
The playoffs versus the primaries: At least the NFL requires you to be goodbefore you can win
It’s no coincidence that the GOP primary race kicks off in Iowa the same week that the NFL playoffs begin. Well, okay, it is a coincidence, but it’s a significant one: if you’re going to follow an ultimately meaningless bread-and-circuses sort of reality contest, it’s good to have one option that involves a lot of hitting. And with Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Ndamukung Suh, Brian Dawkins — hell, even Patriots wide receiver-cum-occasional nickelback Julian Edelman — all in the tournament, the NFL playoffs offer way better hitting.
This is where we are at as a nation. A primary race that exists largely to provide some low-quality reality television, weed out any opinions that may deviate from the conventional wisdom, and determine precisely how unenthused people who don’t like Mitt Romney are about the prospect of him being the Republican nominee can be strongly argued to be less representative of America than the NFL playoffs. At least Tim Tebow is in the playoffs, at least for now. Could you say that about the Iowa caucus?
No, you could not— in fact, even Rick Perry, the self-proclaimed “Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucus,” turned out to barely be in it. All Perry seems to have accomplished since uttering his weird dog-whistle invocation of a name with more right-wing cultural significance than any in the current GOP field is a weird jinxing of the hapless Broncos quarterback. The Governor asked to be like Tim Tebow, and Tebow’s buddy God responded by making Tebow more like Perry….
Just take a look at the poor kid’s stat line since that quote
Perry made his grasp for some of the Tebow magic on December 16th; at that point, Tebow hadn’t lost a single game since being fed to the Detroit Lions in October. Since then, he hasn’t won a single game. He’s been 0-for-3, completing only 30 of 73 pass attempts for a measly 439 yards — a number that a heathen quarterback like Matthew Stafford routinely surpasses in a single game — and thrown a single touchdown to complement his four interceptions. If you were committed to the #10ForTebow campaign to donate money to worthy causes that the Broncos signal caller advocates against each time he scores, well, your checkbook barely noticed.
And while all of this is great fun to point out, if you’re grossed out by either Tebow’s showy, overly-demonstrative piousness or Perry’s reprehensible politics — or, most likely, both — there’s actually a point to this, too. After the Iowa caucus last night, and the campaign of dissatisfaction with The Establishment (as represented by the taxidermy form of Mitt Romney) that makes this year’s GOP race look very much like a roulette wheel — and which lingered over Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, most recently, before passing them by — appears at press time to have landed on the utterly unelectable Rick Santorum, if only by a margin of about three dozen votes, simply because no one cared enough to campaign against him prior to this week, and there wasn't enough time to do it by the time it got to be his turn.
Which is absurd, and further proof that the NFL is both better entertainment and maybe even more significant. Because while parity rules in the NFL, random arbitrariness isn’t usually the way things work: losers, typically, are exposed as losers in the playoffs. The football-watching establishment may be nearly as bored with the long-presumed favorites in Green Bay as the Republican base is with Mitt Romney, but that boredom doesn’t mean that they’ll randomly select the St. Louis Rams — the football equivalent to Rick Santorum — to advance in the playoffs just because it’d be kinda neat.
Which is the point: America, especially in the conservative worldview, likes to see itself as a pure meritocracy. “Jim Abbott,” they like to say, indicating that hard work and determination are enough to make anyone a success. But the Republican primaries, whoever ultimately wins them, indicate something else. You don’t necessarily need to be good in order to win. In the end, it looks like a tight three-way that resulted in Santorum — but that doesn't make him a winner. It only makes him the person who did less badly than everybody else, because someone — statistically speaking — had to.
Whoever advances in the playoffs, though, has to earn it
Whether you believe that meritocracy is the bedrock principle of America or a destructive myth that’s used to justify the lack of opportunities presented to the less-privileged, the fact is that it will not be a force on display in the primaries. When T.J. Yates and Andy Dalton face off in Houston on Saturday afternoon, meanwhile, the pair of shaky rookies will have massive defensive ends and linebackers to contend with. Any success they eke out on the field will prove that they’re worthy of taking it to the next level — which will be either a trip to Baltimore or New England, where the system will once again prove that it works, and then that winner will be tested once more, before the Super Bowl happens. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich vows to fight on in New Hampshire...
And if this all seems irrelevant — everyone reading this knows how a tournament works, and football is ultimately just a meaningless game — consider the depressing reality that our political system isn’t anywhere near as efficient at picking the most worthy winner as the NFL. It’s too bad that the stakes are so damn high.