Viewpoint: The Other Side of Life, Fantasies

By : Jason Leclerc
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Jason Leclerc

Full disclosure:
1. I’ve been a contributor to the Jeb Bush campaign for president since before he announced. Since 2000 – when he was in his political prime – I have hopefully chomped at my Republican bit for his turn in the White House.

2. I’m a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan.

3. I have had dreams about Rob Gronkowski that have nothing to do with football.

By all rights, Jeb should have been the Bush to beat Gore in 2000, the man to guide us through 9-11, the man to reform education and administer a “No Child Left Behind” that actually lived up to its name, the man to prescribe answers to Social Security and national healthcare, the man to combat al-Qaida and prevent a two-front Middle-East quagmire, the man to reshape the Supreme Court, and the man to rein in the Fed’s decade of easy money. He was smart enough, conservative enough, and just wonkish enough to make things like procurement reform (how the government buys stuff) and trust-fund solvency sexy – or at least relevant. But he wasn’t that Bush at that time.

In the 15 intervening years, America and the world have changed considerably. Technology, Occupy, Iraq, the Great Recession, and the Tea Party have reshaped American politics in ways that make the simple “common sense” solutions that worked in 1996 seem juvenile.

And then there’s fantasy football.

In the most telling moment from the third GOP debate, Jeb was asked about his fantasy football team, to which he answered, “I’m 7-0 in my fantasy football league. Gronkowski is still going strong.” In fairness, he followed this up with a tepid warning about the lack of regulation over the new form of online gambling, but what he obviously considered an applause line overshadowed the serious response that he was obligated to make.

This is where he lost me, when I came to recognize that he is not necessarily the man for these times.

How can a self-respecting Floridian (former governor and citizen of Miami!) cheer against the Dolphins? Because that’s what fantasy football does, it bets on the dismantling into disparate and unaccountable constituencies of the real-world cohesion inherent in what is arguably the ultimate team sport. He chose Gronk’s stats over the Fins on the eve of the Thursday showdown between the Patriots and the hometown boys from Miami. While I applaud Jeb’s recognition of modern pop culture and of its intersection with the complexities of technology, his response more resembles demagoguery than deep understanding.

Of course, this is all metaphor for something much more troubling.

First of all, he hinted that there was a space for government to ensure the fairness of the billion-dollar betting industry that has grown up around fantasy football. We have to flag this one! Conservative ideology eschews bigger government protections for people that are irresponsible enough to gamble online.

Secondly, if we consider the logic behind the “fantasy” mentality, we find bubbles around the constituents of a team. In fantasyland, a tight end operates independent of his quarterback, both of whom succeed or fail in a vacuum that discounts a carefully constructed corpus which also requires defense and special teams and coaching.

The United States economy does not operate in a bubble independent of foreign relations. The value of our dollar is tied to the success of China’s middle class, oil fields in Central Africa, and to navigable channels exploited by trade partners as ice sheets melt and re-form in the Arctic. The permeability of America’s borders remains tied to the availability of promising jobs to our north and south. The wealth of the most successful Americans is protected only to the degree that the other 90 percent is able to maintain their own standard of living. Civil rights and education and the arts can only thrive in a nation where the most basic human rights are protected. None of these constituent realities can be taken in isolation.

Finally, fantasy football turns people into stats and dollars and wagers. It dismantles the hard work of team-building and the value of the collective “we.” America is not simply quintiles and test scores. America is not simply debt ceilings and unemployment rates. Rather, America is a complex set of interdependent citizens: everyone from teachers and plumbers to professional athletes and wealthy, quasi-royal families.

America is a team made up of great players, middling players and third stringers. We have to figure out how to make the team we have – not some fantasy – continue to win. There is nothing ideologically conservative about imagining away the complexities of American society. Fantasy is not a solution.

As fantastic (!) as a nation of Gronks might be, a tight end does not a nation make.

So, chiming in from the straight-talking end of the stage during the same debate, New Jersey’s Chris Christie – far from a sure bet to win the GOP nomination – responded in a way that I wish Jeb had: “Are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football? We have – wait a second – we have 19 trillion dollars in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us, and we’re talking about fantasy football. Can we stop?”

Yes, Governor Christie. I think we can, because we have much better and consequential – truly fantastic – work to do.

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