Sen. Mike Lee’s Quixotic and bizarre attempt to shut down the government to stop Obamacare reminds me of a couple of pointless events from this past weekend.
First, a number of parents were complaining on a Facebook page I frequent about the quality of soccer refereeing in Utah youth leagues this year. The main thrust of the discussion was referees were somehow costing their kids’ teams games. Not that their kids were outplayed, or the other team had better talent. It was the referees that were totally affecting the outcome of the games.
Then, the same thing happened after BYU lost to Utah. Cougar fans pelted the officials with garbage while they left the field after the game. Better to blame them than the fact Utah was the superior team on the field Saturday night.
How does this relate to Lee’s effort?
It’s part of a larger societal trend - where nobody can accept “no” for an answer. Can Lee stop Obamacare? No. Did your kid’s soccer team play well enough to win? No. Are the Cougars better than the Utes? No.
However many ways the answer “no” is presented to them with evidence to back it up, they can’t accept the answer as being true.
That inability to be okay with a “no” is one of the reasons why our politics are so broken. The Affordable Care Act passed Congress with a majority in both houses. The president won, yet opponents continue to push for another bite at the apple. The current effort to stop it, no matter the cost, is simply a toddler’s temper tantrum writ large. Instead of “I’m gonna take my ball and go home because you’re beating me,” we get “I’m gonna shut down the government because I can’t win any other way.”
It’s cheating, and Sen. Lee, along with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are being egged on by a chorus of sore losers. They’ve already lost the war, but they continue to fight on over overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Saying “no” to someone is hard, and accepting it as an answer is even more difficult.
Nobody likes to lose, but learning how to do it with grace and aplomb is rapidly fading. Maybe this is why our political system is so broken now - an inability to accept defeat. If you look like you’re giving in, the extremes on the right and left will scream bloody murder.
I think the last time the label of “sore loser” worked in politics was the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. During the whole hanging-chad, court battle, recount rigmarole, Bush’s supporters mocked the Gore/Lieberman ticket as “Sore Loserman.” That stuck fast to the two, and basically shaped public opinion during the fight.
Now we have the Tea Party directing political traffic from the extremes, threatening to punish anyone who dares stray from orthodoxy.
The online echo chamber reinforces this. Steven Strauss, an advanced leadership fellow at Harvard wrote in the Huffington Post:
“(Americans) believe what we want to believe, and we selectively filter out information contradicting our preferences.
That’s why Lee and his supporters keep trying to change an already decided outcome - “America couldn’t possibly support something like Obamacare.” That’s why sports parents and Cougar fans blame the refs - “Our team couldn’t possibly have lost if everything were fair and square.”
When “American Idol” was still a thing people watched, my favorite part was the auditions. It was always telling to see how people without a lick of singing talent reacted to being told they weren’t good enough. It was probably the first time someone told them no in their entire lives - and the result wasn’t pretty. The judges were “wrong” or “stupid” or “didn’t know what they were talking about.” No introspection. No self-evaluation. It must be someone else’s fault.
Losing gives you two paths to follow. You can blame everyone else (voters, judges, referees, the other team), or you can look at why you lost (your ideas, your talent level, your strategy). Blaming others is easier. Blaming yourself is much more difficult and painful.
Learning to lose is an important lesson. Sadly, we are not teaching it much anymore in America. By and large, when you lose a political battle, it means most people wanted something else. When you continue to fight that battle, it proves you’re a sore loser at best and delusional at worst.
Vince Lombardi famously said “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” How can you get back up when you refuse to acknowledge you’ve been knocked down in the first place?