That's Why They Play The Game

Charles Payne
Posted: Feb 17, 2012 12:01 AM
 know the economy is always expressed in X's and O's which makes it a lot like sports, but the fact is both are about flesh and blood.  Both represent triumph and defeat and still there is something even deeper.  There is something alive that reacts to logic and illogic and can confound the experts on any given day.  Sure, we rarely ever say the market "gutted it out" in a session, but until yesterday, that's exactly what stocks have done on almost a daily basis.  Although sports often feel do-or-die, it's actually the economy that can make life better, beyond that fleeting moment of our favorite team winning the Super Bowl.

One thing's is for sure, both have soul when they're done right, which is more than we can say about politics these days.  In fact, it's been a long time since the world of politics had anything resembling soul.  They say this year's election is all about the economy, yet I'm beginning to think it could actually be more than simply the direction of unemployment and GDP changes.  I think Americans need to really believe our economy can gut it out.  Sure, there's going to be a lot of smoke-and-mirrors and endless spin on how great 8.3% unemployment is when there are the same amount of people working as a couple of decades ago. 

I think there is a lack of belief in all politicians that actually harms the economy or any economic plan—one has to believe in order to make any system begin to work.  Of course, it has to be the right system, too.  That system needs a spark based on hope and optimism, and these days that means there has to be a key ingredient, wholesomeness.   So many people feel like everything is rigged, beginning with their lives and the forces that keep them in their lanes.  Like sports fans following mediocre teams, we become complicit with our rigged world.  Until we're jolted out of it by something that reminds us life has no boundaries—especially life in America.


Last night, Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks scored nine points early in the game and tossed out some unbelievable assist before cruising out the rest of the game on the bench as his team eased out a blowout win.  Jeremy Lin is the person that makes people believe.  He doesn't look the part in any way, yet his skills blossomed at the right moment.  He has become a phenomenon in New York and is spreading around the nation like a jolt of electricity.  Sure, we root for him because he's winning, but we love him because he leaped out of his lane.  In so many ways his story is insane, but in so many ways this is America.

We saw this same kind of excitement over Tim Tebow, and both he and Lin share an unabashed faith in God out front and center.  The question is how do we get their joy, passion, and remarkable ability to confound the experts into our economy?  Unfortunately, it has to go through our politicians before it can infuse our economy.  But that kind of jolt would come as a greater surprise than a bench-warming Harvard grad leading a freefalling New York Knicks to a seven game winning streak. 

The Little Guy Looking Out for the Little Guy

A story in the Washington Post yesterday underscored the notion that Americans are simply fodder and livestock to politicians.  The story highlights names and organizations and connects the dots between $3.6 billion of your tax dollars given to clean energy companies run by people that pumped money into the Obama campaign.  On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama shouted he would rid Washington of influence-peddling lobbyists, but they're still around, joined by a different kind of money-changer.  So when President Obama says he will double down on clean energy, he's saying he will continue to reward his money bundlers with your hard earned money. 

The quid pro quo is so obvious you wonder, where's the shame or where's the law?  There is no true economic plan by the president, and the idea that he has ever jumped started the economy is nonsense.  But, the fact is like superstars on an underperforming sports team, the White House expects accolades and our applause.  On the Republican side, the superstars may have also overestimated how much accolades would come naturally without being earned.  Perhaps this explains the recent rise of Rick Santorum who now leads the pack including Mitt Romney by double digits in all national polls (Santorum also polls closest to President Obama 44% to 49%).

Just another Face in the Crowd

The last time I saw Rick Santorum, he was standing in the lobby of the midtown New York building that's home to Fox News and Fox Business.  People walked past him without stopping or noticing, and I almost did the same until I caught his smile at the last second.  We've always gotten along very well on and off the air, so we shook hands and did the regular pleasantries.  For most of the GOP campaign, Santorum was as invisible to voters as he was that day in the lobby and as Jeremy Lin sitting on the end of the bench of an underwhelming basketball team.  Now, Santorum is a juggernaut.

I'm not saying Rick Santorum is as wholesome as his sweaters, but at the moment he feels that way.  He is a strong family man and is not ashamed to say he believes in God, but he has baggage that will appear and be heard.  It's possible the glare of scrutiny could knock the allure off Santorum's glow, but the story at this very moment is he has something those giants like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are lacking.  He was a face in the crowd.  Now, he's the face that represents the crowd, the underdog, and the person conditioned to stay in their lane.  And this is why I think the election will not just be about the economy but it will also be more about how to get this economy to reach its potential.

Americans are desperate to be the most important part of economic policy rather than pawns in master games of payback.  I think the winning formula in November will be the one that makes people believe in the system to an extent that it goes on a winning streak that needs no manipulation just raw enthusiasm and determination.  Without the spirit of a Lin or Tebow, fits and false starts will be a permanent part of the fabric of this economy.  I'm not sure who's going to win this thing; right now the media is gushing enough for Obama to have traction, but the authentic joy needed to get America on the right (read winning) track remains elusive.  Of course, you never know when it happens or where it comes from, which is why Howard Cosell always said "that's why they play the game."