What Olympic Athletes Can Teach Congress

Olympic athletes are good sports. Why isn't Congress?

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U.S. gymnast Samuel Mikulak dismounts after his performance on the vault during the artistic gymnastics men's apparatus finals at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in London.

American Olympic gymnast Samuel Mikulak had just completed an impressive vault, and was technically in the running for a bronze medal. Also-impressive performances by competitors took him out of the running, but Mikulak didn't pout or walk out. He watched with respectful awe as South Korean Yang Hak-Seon, an athlete so talented that a move in his unimaginably difficult vault is named after him, vaulted to the gold. Mikulak clapped.

The Olympic swimmers hug each other after a race, congratulating those who denied them their own Olympic dreams of a medal. Athletes of all disciplines watched in amazement and joy as South African Oscar Pistorius ran around the track with prosthetic lower legs and feet. And they all cheered when Jamaican Usain Bolt showed again what a physical and athletic marvel he is.

Really, Congress, is that so hard?

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Capitol Hill used to be a place with a certain Olympic spirit. True, people were disappointed—even temporarily devastated—when they lost a vote or legislative battle. But they got over it. They didn't make it personal, and they kept their focus on something that was bigger and more important than they are: the law, the future of the country, and the well-being of the people who sent them to Washington to represent them.

Congress is now looking like a collection of very bad sports. And what's worse, the medals will go not to those who excel and impress, but to those who more effectively threw an elbow into the other team's ribs. Passing bills in one house of Congress, knowing they will go nowhere, but knowing also that they may be useful as a campaign tool against the other party—there's an Olympic comparison there, but it's not with the winners—it's with the petty badminton players who deliberately played badly so they could secure an easier matchup in the next round.

There have been a few episodes of dissension and poor behavior at the Olympics—a punch in the face to a U.S. soccer player, accusations of breaking the rules. But for the most part, the athletes from around the world have shown a mutual respect and appreciation of excellence that transcends the desire to win. Congress is back in their districts for a five-week break from Washington. Let's hope they're watching the Olympic games.

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