Why Can't Washington Pols Be More LIke NFL Negotiators?

While they can look up to the NFL's recent deal as a great lesson in compromise, politicians should remember that they are lawmakers and not athletes.

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What does it mean when people who mounted political campaigns and were ostensibly vetted by the voters cannot come to an agreement on the debt ceiling, but the National Football League and professional athletes worked out a deal in plenty of time for the football season to start on time?

Keep in mind, on the NFL, that we are talking about people who run pell-mell into their opponents and tackle them to the ground for a living. It is a profession so potentially hazardous that it requires pads and helmets. That group went to battle in contract negotiations with NFL owners, a group so remarkably entitled that they think it is they who should be claiming a bigger chunk of the NFL revenue pie, despite the fact that the owners are not the ones getting concussions or getting taped up on the sidelines and pushed back into battle on the field. And those two sides still managed to work it out, while Congress and the White House still are on the brink.

[Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

Perhaps the trouble here is that lawmakers yearn to be in a battle or a game. They use numerous sports and war metaphors in their description of disagreements or negotiations. Often, they are ill-suited metaphors, but people involved in political and economic negotiations can’t seem to resist making them. Is it because they feel just a little geeky, in their suits and ties and short haircuts, and secretly want to be seen as rogue, wild-haired athletes? Do we never get past the high school dynamic, wherein the quarterback is Big Man On Campus and the class valedictorian is popular only with his or her teachers?

[See a slide show of 6 consequences if the debt ceiling is not raised.]

It would work, perhaps, if voters and taxpayers and international markets were merely observers of the game, and not somewhat helpless players. Lawmakers can make all the tortured sports metaphors they want, but the very nature of legislating demands cooperation. Even with the opposing team.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the debt and deficit.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP.
  • Read: What Washington Can Learn From the NFL.