Forget Boxing, the 2012 Election is More Like Professional Wrestling
The news media and pundits love to use sports analogies when discussing American politics. When describing the 2012 race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, boxing is their sport of choice.
Obama's supporters have inaccurately described his defeat by Romney in the first debate as a version of a deep game that is modeled on Muhammad Ali's legendary "rope-a-dope" strategy against George Foreman. Romney's backers claimed that he scored a TKO over Barack Obama, leaving the President flat on his back in the ring after the first debate.
In keeping with the boxing metaphor, the second debate in the 2012 presidential campaign featured Joe Biden, a wizened, experienced pugilist from the mean streets of Scranton versus a scrappy upstart with much to prove named Paul Ryan.
But what if the analogy is inaccurate?
Boxing is a poor fit for describing the presidential race between these two candidates. Boxing is a sport prefaced on merciless violence. People have been killed in the ring, or left handicapped, brain damaged, and physically broken by a match.
I am not not discounting the substantive differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's approach to governance, public policy, or stewardship of the Common Good. This election represents a clear difference on issues such as reproductive rights, public schools and education, tax policy, and health care reform. I also think that a Romney presidency would border on the disastrous for a country struggling to find its way out of the greatest economic downturn in 80 years.
While the stakes are very high, a choice between Obama and Romney cannot be reduced to a blood sport. Yes, political polarization, the rise of the New Right, and the White populism of the Tea Party do signal an increasing chasm and gulf in our society, that if recent surveys and research are to be believed, has limited our ability to relate to one another and imperiled the ability of the State to respond to issues of common concern.
However, there are great areas of overlap between the Republicans and Democrats which are little discussed. Neither Obama or Romney will engage in a substantive discussion of wealth inequality, the destruction of unions and manufacturing, a flat minimum wage, and the power of economic elites in this country to subvert democracy.
Both will continue a policy of American empire and intervention abroad. Both Romney and Obama have demonstrated a lack of willingness to address the rise of the surveillance state, and the continual erosion of privacy and personal liberty under the guise of "the War on Terror."
And of course, Obama and Romney will not discuss the realities of the color line, the semi-permanence of white racism, and how race and class intersect to limit the life chances of many tens of millions of Americans.
In all, the 2012 election features a centrist Right-leaning Democrat who would have been a Rockefeller Republican in another era running against a flip-flopping, quasi-moderate, near sociopathic Republican who will do anything to win the White House. Regardless of the outcome, the Republic will survive; moreover, a fight over a very narrow area of public policy which does little to challenge Power will continue unabated.
Contemporary American politics is more like professional wrestling than a boxing match.
The outcomes are predetermined in the former. Consequently, the force of personalities, storytelling, and the to and fro between competitors (what we wrestling fans call "in-ring generalship" and "workrate") are the elements of a great match. Professional wrestling is a spectacle that succeeds by drawing the audience into the story and manipulating their emotions.