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Trash-talking is common in sports. When it works, the athlete doing the talking distracts his or her opponent and derails that opponent's game.
Sometimes trash-talking backfires, as when a coach successfully motivates his players with an opponent's insult. Some locker rooms have bulletin boards reserved for articles that contain provocative remarks by the opposition.
Trash-talking is common in politics. Mitt Romney has been scorned as a socialist for the health care plan that began in Massachusetts while he was governor. More recently he's been attacked as a capitalist who gloated and bought more stuff while all the men whose jobs he eliminated wandered the streets in despair.
I wonder if there are bulletin boards in the store fronts where Romney's volunteers are sending e-mails and licking envelopes…assuming anybody anywhere still licks envelopes. If so, those bulletin boards are covered with quotes from Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Prediction is the name of the game in the sports writing dodge. We all do it, and lots of us do it badly, but we don't worry about that. Only gullible gamblers expect sports writers to be any good at predicting. If they were, who'd watch the games?
Prediction is the meat and potatoes of political commentators, too, which explains why elections are so often spoken of as if they were athletic competitions. That, and the fact that it's easy to speak of them that way because the speaker needn't know anything about the candidates' actual position. Anyway, like teams, candidates establish leads in the polls and hope to accumulate momentum. Who they are is eclipsed by the numbers they generate and how they impress farmers, hardware merchants, and others who either don't like this candidate's beady eyes or cringe at the way that one smiles like a banker about to say no.
Perhaps the most significant distinction between sports and politics is that at bottom, business-like as they have become, games are fun, and when each one is over, no matter who wins, the wait for the next one is short.
Elections, on the other hand, have consequences that last for years, which suggests that maybe we shouldn't be satisfied when they're treated like upcoming games.
This program aired on January 17, 2012.
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