Washington could take a serious lesson from the NFL referee lockout. Americans have little faith in their elected institutions with a Congressional job approval at a miserable 13.8 percent and President Barack Obama's approval rating hovering right under 50 percent according to the polls.
The National Football League suffered major brand damage after a replacement referee made a bad call which resulted in the infamous Green Bay Packers loss to the Seattle Seahawks this past week. As a Packers fan, this author would say it was probably the worst referee call in the history of the sports universe.
If people get upset with a product, they will usually stop buying it immediately. That's why it took only a few days for the NFL to come to an agreement to end the lockout of the NFL referees. In the end, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to the fans for the mess.
The reason why Washington has an approval rating that is in the gutter is because they aren't responding to upset voters in a timely manner. Why? The race for the White House is every four years. Members are elected every two years to the House and every six years to the Senate. So if Congress isn't addressing the nation's problems, there isn't a sudden opportunity to dump those who are holding up progress.
Football fans will soon be back to believing that football games are mostly officiated fairly. And they can feel good about the fact that the NFL acted so quickly. Washington doesn't do much of anything so America continues to have a high unemployment rate, low incomes, and high energy prices.
Of course, who is to blame in Washington? President Obama points at Congress and says it isn't his fault. The House Republican leadership points at Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate and claims it's their fault. The challenge here is that charges of obstruction are largely falling on deaf ears. The NFL cut a deal with the referees because that bad call moment watched by millions of people and replayed thousands of times in a matter of days. The moment for Americans who are sick and tired of Washington and painfully watched gridlock as usual comes in November when they can change the players of the game inside the Beltway.
The NFL is so popular because the fans can identify with the amazing drive, intensity, and effort players put into the game. President Obama is playing a defensive game hoping that the polls will continue to go his way. Mitt Romney has a great opportunity to shake up the race, go on offense, and connect with middle class voters who want to know more about him. This means that he needs to do more than rallies with the party faithful. Yes, the debates are tremendously important and can help further shape the outcome of the race. But Romney should to get into conversations with voters to show that he cares about them and their problems.
Why not hold an endless number of town hall style meetings with long voter question and answer sessions, round table meetings at factories with owners and employees, sit downs at diners with real people who can ask him questions? Real interaction matters right now.
If Romney were to take these steps, he would likely gain in the polls, especially in battleground states where he could use the help. Remember the image of the Republican pizza owner lifting Obama inside his restaurant? Or how about the picture of Joe Biden in the diner with the motorcycle bikers? Romney can punch right through the Democratic attacks against him by going straight to the people and making his case.
The current status quo of the race is helping Obama and hurting Romney. If the NFL can change on a dime to keep its strong fan base, then Mitt Romney can do the same to win over American voters.