Sent to the Post-Crescent August 18, 2008:
The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are not only exciting and a good excuse to cheer on American athletes such as Nastia Liukin and Michael Phelps, but also offer a moral lesson concerning competition. Competition is at its healthiest when it is both friendly and self-improving.
When an athlete wants to be the best, there are two ways to achieve this: make her performance better by honing in on improving strengths while eliminating weaknesses, or find ways to undermine the performance of her opponent. Obviously, the moral and honorable high road is to choose the former. And that is what makes most Olympians great — the desire to not only compete and win, but also to respect their opponents’ right to compete unhindered.
Sadly, global economics — at least through American lenses — tend not to work this way. When our rivals, including China (not coincidentally), surge in economic growth, we cry foul and begin to speak disparagingly of them. We point out human rights abuses while refusing to acknowledge our own. We accuse China of poisoning us with lead toys and toothpaste while not bothering to inspect the goods we sell to our own people. If politicians were athletes, we’d be focusing on our own shortcomings and closing the loopholes — if we stop accepting lead toys, China would stop making them.
Isn’t it time for our leaders to stop looking for someone to blame when we’re losing on the world stage and begin to see how much better our own performance could be with a little attention? Support tougher inspections, legislate stronger labor rights rather than sending jobs and money overseas. We have the ability to be gold medal winners but would rather squander our potential by pointing fingers. Nastia Liukin for President?