They both start with the letter "O." That is where the similarities begin and end between Obama and the Olympics.
For 16 glorious days, every four years, the entire world is treated to a meritocratic athletic buffet -- complete with winners and losers, human triumph and disappointment. For a very select few, and often formerly anonymous athletes, the years of personal sacrifice and obscure toil will deliver gold -- both around their necks and in their bank accounts.
For the vast majority of Olympic athletes, however, there will be no gold or silver or even bronze. But neither will there be regret. And, unlike Obama's manufactured war on America's elite, those finishing out of the medals won't begrudge the victors. Most will just go home, work a little harder, search for an extra few hundredths of a second for when the next Olympic flame is ignited in another 1,460 days.
What most people want in life is a level playing field, or even just a field to play on. It may have taken a court of law for a fleet but legless South African "blade" sprinter to get an invitation to run against boys with feet but that is all he wanted and deserved -- a chance to compete. And when the starting gun fires, let the chips fall where they may.
Coincidentally, on the same quadrennial clock, is the election of an American president. And to the consternation and frustration of the American electorate, Obama, I believe, is mostly responsible for turning the current election into anything but a demonstration of merit. While I acknowledge a growing personal bias in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, it is mostly a function of four years of dismal results with no reasonable hint of better times on the horizon. Obama has had nearly the time from when the world went to Beijing to validate the powers of his prowess and to prove to the country that he is the right man for the biggest job in the world.
Yet, isn't it telling that the primary focus of his campaign is on the times and scores of his opponent? Even, at times, suggesting that Romney is on the business equivalent of steroids and other performance enhancers that gave him unfair advantages throughout his professional life> Even the Chairman Emeritus of his own party, Bill Clinton, forgetting for a moment which "flag" was on his back, praised Romney for his "sterling" business record.
The real beauty of most sports at the Olympics is either a clock or a measuring stick -- two manmade implements that remove all of man's inadequacies from the equation. Seems to me the political equivalent should be the unemployment number and not the percentage of income that Romney, playing by the rules, paid in taxes.
Yet, the president and his surrogates have gone so far as to suggest that Romney might be a felon. I believe that what should be a felony is a president, any president, not running on their record. For me, as an American business entrepreneur, who has stumbled over more than a few hurdles in my professional life while creating hundreds of good-paying jobs, what is tragic is having a president who would prefer me to run in sand against an opponent on a tartan track.
Unfortunately, Obama insists on placing an undue and demotivating burden on capitalisms winners in a counter-productive effort to lift the tide for everyone: even when history has proven it not to work. Using his logic, Obama would impose a tax on the Phelps of the world to buy his opponents flippers.
Taking Obama literally, which we should do of presidents, you would have to question whether it was Michael who won the race. Certainly, he had the support of family, coaches and a few others. But, at the end of the day, it was Michael who endured the pain, investing countless hours staring at a line on the bottom of a pool -- not his neighbors, the taxpayers or the people who built the YMCA. Michael did the time and he will rightly cash in the dimes.
For the precocious gymnast, the nailed backflip on the balance beam could lead to a life of endorsements and riches beyond her wildest dreams. Two weeks ago, a flying squirrel was what you'd find leaping off a Douglas fir, not the human equivalent stretching boundaries on a 4-inch wide beam made of the same wood. And nobody will begrudge anything of the soon-to-be multi-millionaire 16-year-old Gabby -- not her fellow contestants, an adoring public or probably even the president himself. Although, amazingly, not unlike in the business world, just one stumble by Gabby would have led to an altogether different outcome that wouldn't have put her on a box of Corn Flakes or keep in the public eye for the rest of her life.
The world is a better place because of people pushing the envelope in all facets of life. In some pursuits the rewards are psychic and personal; in others the riches of kings are bestowed. The judo contestant knows full well going in that regardless of excellence, a day job will soon be unavoidable.
In the Olympics, just like in life, there are winners and losers. It can seem cruel and unfair that a hundredth of a second can be the difference between athletic immortality and obscurity; wealth your grandchildren will get to spend or a job. But that is the beauty of it. A race wouldn't be a race if all contestants shared the victory stand. That is called either Europe or first-grade soccer, not life.
What is true for the Olympics is true for capitalism, the most successful form of organizing an economy in the history of the world. Because of the rewards, risk-takers are incentivized to take chances to do challenging somersaults on the balance beam, whether it be in an Olympic arena or over the hurdles that confront all businesses.
The gymnastic routines of bygone eras now seem trite at best. But the athletes that push the limits, as with entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists or even people who make a better burger, whether they be purely selfish or working out of total altruism to cure the ills of mankind, make us all better off. And to those that reach the pinnacle, they should really be richly rewarded for the inspiration, visual candy, better mousetrap or faster computers that raise the tide and enrich us all.
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