Friday, November 14, 2008

American Hymn

Life just ain't the way the Dems see it.

REMEMBER THIS?  I just can't believe it's going to go down the way people are talking about it. I know I'm a dinosaur. I was there at a tiny back-country racetrack for one of the first ever showdowns between the legendary Corvette and the mysterious new predator called the Cobra. The venue was too small for both of them. The corners were too tight, the straightaways too short. Neither of the competitors was wearing the kind of shiny paint shown above. The headlights were masked with exes of black tape, and the bodies were dull with the sweatsuit primer of gym-rat sluggers who don't care how they look. They both carried too much power into the turns, their rears swinging like wild left hooks, but the longest straight went right in front of the stands, and it was awe-inspiring to see the Cobra run down and pass the Corvette with a burst of hungry, guttural acceleration that was brand new to an audience used to thrumming Austin Healeys and singing Elvas. This was low, snarling, teeth gnashing horsepower unleashed. The Americans had entered the sports car wars, and there was blood in their eye.

But that's the way it's always been. America is competition. Coke versus Pepsi. McDonald's versus Burger King. Chevy versus Ford. Mopar against all. Competition is bred into our bones. Texas versus Oklahoma on the gridiron. Boston University versus Michigan at hockey. Harvard versus Yale at football and presidents. Walmart versus K-Mart. Exxon versus Mobil. (And, yes, we understand that sometimes losers die or get pwned.) The Celtics versus the Lakers. Democrats versus Republicans. Apple versus Microsoft. East coast versus west coast. The Yankees versus absolutely everybody else in every city and state. It's all the American Way.

They say it's shutting down, that America is closing the door on capitalism. Don't you believe it. This is still America. Here's the truth of it.

Millions of American mothers let ther sons play football. It's a game in which injuries aren't just likely but inevitable. Knees, shoulders, heads. And the risks go well beyond that to include boos, derision, defeat, humiliation, and personal failure. Mothers fear ruined knees. Their sons fear the safety of the bench. Why do they do it? Why do the mothers offer up their sons? Why do the sons volunteer in such staggering numbers? The squeamish ones who really believe that we all want to be protected from every bad eventuality in life should abandon their worship of grim statistics and look at the everyday statistics. Every high school in the United States refutes their conviction that life is supposed to be safe. In America, safety can't hold a candle to cheers.

Why do conservative intellectuals struggle so with the difficulties they perceive in communicating the economic tradeoffs between risk and reward? Because they're just plain ignorant themselves. The American people understand the relationship between risk and reward perfectly well. They live it every day. Their son is a linebacker or a quarterback -- or an X-Games skateboarder, a drag racer, a motocross competitor, a junior bull rider, a Golden Gloves boxer -- and they know that the quest for victory can exact a terrible price. They do not demand an end to risk. Only that the rules be fair and equitably enforced. No matter how many pictures we see on the network news of people with their hands out, that is not the American Way. We have not become a nation of whining soccer moms who want all games to end in ties and no child to get his feelings hurt because he's no damn good at the game. That may be the way the Europeans see things, but it's not how we see things in America.

If you have any doubts about American exceptionalism, go to the nearest high school football field this Friday night. You will witness a scene you can't see anywhere else in the world. And maybe you've been taught to look down on it. But you shouldn't. Everything you own and enjoy has been purchased by the kinds of souls you will see on that football field, youngsters who understand that victory, pride, and outstanding performance really are worth the risk of humiliating defeat, broken bones, and the extreme consequence of death in a game. No other country on earth understands this so well. Your freedoms were not procured by shrewd lawyers and slick speechmakers. They were procured in the first place and protected ever since by the spirit you see on that high school football field. That spirit has made you free, it's made you rich, and it's made you complacent, because it's always always there, and you don't have to have it yourself to benefit from it.

I know it's become the fashion to belittle the unfamous people who build your houses, fix your plumbing, repair your cars, and fight your wars. You probably think they're not as smart as you are. They believe in God, they drink, they smoke, they can't do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle if they even know it exists, and they can be stampeded into fear of things they think they don't understand, like economic crises and mysterious chemical threats. But don't ever think they're fools. They're not going to let you turn government into the great eliminator of all risk in life. Whatever you think, they don't all want to work for the government. They know the extraordinary value of cheers. And they won't let you take away all the rivalries that infuse their lives with energy and excitement.

You can bail out Ford and Chevy in the short term. But if you try to turn them into state-run, can't fail bureaucracies, all the mothers and sons who make high school football possible will come for you with pitchforks. And they'll be right to do it. Because this is America. The land of the free safety and the home of the breakaway running back. (And while you're at the game you've never bothered to attend before, check out the parking lot; then tell us that Americans won't fight for GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Ain't gonna go down that way, bro.)

I know the great liberal dream is to turn America into Europe. It's not going to happen. Not in the Obama administration. Not ever. Because even as we speak, some fifteen-year-old boy is practicing to catch the game-winning touchdown, no matter how much it costs. You can bleed America all you want, but you'll never bleed that trait out of our unique and indefatigable people.


P.S. La Monica has forwarded an irresistible video that seems somehow to go with this post.

Don't ask me how. I might tell you.

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