Like many folks I've actually watched the last few Knicks games. I hope you've done the same. Jeremy Lin was made the starting point guard only ten days ago, and is a genuine, not-to-be-minimized, irresistible American phenomenon. You don't have to be a sports fan to appreciate it.
Lin exists on a number of levels. He's a sports figure to be sure, and has reminded us about why sports can matter. A complete unknown, whose skills were widely unappreciated, he got his shot only because the Knicks had no one else to put on the court. Injury, bad personnel decisions and personal tragedy combined to force him in a starting role. The result was a personal triumph. He has already set all kinds of league records for scoring and assists. But more importantly, Lin took the pitiful Knicks, with players correctly described as being at Junior Varsity level (then with eight wins against fifteen losses) and has given it a five game winning streak. He beat up the Lakers' great Kobe Bryant, saved his coach's job, energized his teammates, and brought my attention and the attention of thousands of other New Yorkers back to the team and to the NBA.
Lin is in fact very smart, intentionally and persistently modest, presents himself well and lets his on-court performance speak for itself. He's a Chinese-American, Christian, Harvard grad, who thanks God and his teammates every chance he gets. And because his contract with the Knicks was uncertain at best, he was sleeping on his brother's couch, just in case things didn't work out.
That he's connected so widely and deeply in seven days is no accident. His story reinforces much of what Americans prize in our culture and history. He personifies upward mobility, modesty, inclusiveness, courage and patience, piety, and above all, success. We've lost a little of our faith in that narrative.
And his timing is impeccable. If the Republican primary season has done anything, it's further eroded our national confidence. This primary has been a mélange of candidates who alternate between fringe policies and running from their records. We've seen appalling audiences who boo gay soldiers and cheer the death of uninsured Americans. All while the Democrats and Obama have failed to provide the feel-good, optimistic leadership that boosts American morale. It's been a depressing year.
- He's an unbeaten winner who can run on his record
- He solves the long-standing Republican shortcoming on "diversity"
- Everyone likes him on and off the court
- He's willing to talk about his Christian faith without seeming to belittle others
- He has never destroyed a job
- He's rich but his effective tax rate is probably up there in the 30% area with the rest of us
- He has a little trouble going to his left
- He's smart enough to do the job
Imagining candidate Lin is an exercise worth doing if only because it illuminates the paucity of leadership and ideas in the Republican Party. The GOP has been held hostage by a movement that knows well what it's against and little about what it is for. It's politically legitimate to be against abortion, gay marriage, immigration, deficit spending, and government encroachment on liberty and everyone has been pressed to re-think their positions on all those issues. But these are not a blueprint for the future, they tell us little about how to resurrect the American economy, where we should be investing public resources, upgrading our infrastructure, making health care and education available to all, ending the growth in income inequality and making our political and governmental institutions function.
I'm not with the Republican program, because I think it's bad for the country. But America needs a functioning Republican Party, and right now we don't have one. Even if the Republican predicament makes Obama a more likely winner, everyone benefits from a working two party system. Jeremy Lin's candidacy for President will solve that problem. I don't promise to vote for him in the general election, but a candidate with Jeremy Lin's strengths and nuances would help save the Republican Party and make everyone feel good. As another Republican, Clint Eastwood said last week, " It's halftime in the Republican nominating process." It's "Jeremy Time" and Republicans have a real chance to change the game. But, as a Republican Speaker of the House, Thomas Reed said over a hundred years ago about his own presidential chances, "They could do worse and probably will."