I’m writing this at a Starbucks in the Queen Anne district, early on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. In Seattle, things are remarkably quiet, but it’s the quiet before the storm.
Within two hours, the bars will begin filling with the NFL’s most raucous fans, and the party will be on.
Last night, I grabbed supper at a little Mexican place. Standing in line to order, I found myself behind a young guy wearing a Russell Wilson jersey – and I was tempted to ask him why the heck he wasn’t in New Jersey, getting a good night’s sleep.
Corny, old-guy humor, I know – but I come by it honestly. Dad was a champion corn-ball humorist.
Still, I passed. Seattleites tend to be pretty intense – if also buttoned-up. An explosive combination. Better safe...
All over Seattle, this week, people are wearing blue and green. It’s festive – almost as festive as the red and green of Christmas. I expect Coloradans are equally decked out in orange, and that – in other parts of the country – there are more balanced displays of fandom.
On this Super Bowl Sunday, it occurs to me how seldom we see passionate displays like this around election time. At the polls, of course, there are always a few campaign workers sporting red or blue, but – for the most part – the general public doesn’t flaunt party colors.
Which is odd. Arguably, the outcome of a general election matters more than who wins a Super Bowl...
At least, you’d like to think so.
The problem, I would guess, is that most Americans believe ordinary citizens have no more to say about the outcome of a big election than about the outcome of a professional football game.
And perhaps that’s often true. At a home game, passionate fans – at least those who can afford the price of a ticket – can contribute to the “twelfth man” effect, perhaps influencing the outcome.
A campaign contribution in that amount would be a drop in the bucket of a national or statewide election contest. And a personal effort equivalent to clapping and yelling for three hours would – in addition to being less fun - probably move few voters.
This is not always true, of course. In November’s election, the margin of victory in the election for Attorney General was less than 1,000 votes. And since Virginia attorneys general routinely become candidates for governor, this outcome – in which any one dedicated volunteer’s efforts might have played a significant role – could have great ramifications.
But that’s hardly the point. For most of us, watching a Super Bowl – whether at home or at a bar – will involve a great deal of shouting at a TV screen. And, for all our superstitions, few of us really believe that such enthusiastic displays can actually influence the outcome of a far-away contest.
Yet there’s a powerful instinct to put on one’s team colors – including “lucky” items of clothing – and to perform pre-game rituals. We are all superstitious, to some degree. And we like to believe that our little lives play a role in the great affairs of the world.
If only we could find a way to restore that same sense to our role as citizens.
It occurs to me that this could be accomplished – in part – by offering the public more choices. On Super Bowl Sunday, NFL fans have only two teams to choose from – but at the beginning of each new season, they will again have a selection of 32 teams.
That’s probably too large a number for political parties, but surely, if we had three or four – or five – more Americans would feel that they had a team whose colors they wouldn’t mind wearing on Election Day.
For myself, I’d love to see a party which espoused a neo-Progressive agenda – a modern version of the Bull Moose platform Teddy Roosevelt ran on in 1912. I’d like a party that stood for sharply reining in the power of big corporations – especially in elections and lobbying.
Also, a strong commitment to the environment – specifically, fighting global climate change – no matter whose short-term profits were harmed.
I’d like my party’s colors to feature green – perhaps with an admixture of blue – like the Seahawks.
I’m sure there are sincere Libertarians who would feel equally excited to have a party which reflected their agenda – which the GOP can hardly do. I don’t know what color they’d choose. Perhaps no color at all – to honor their individualistic tastes.
Whatever, it’s a fine thing to see Americans getting excited about something positive – even if it’s only a football game.
I just wish we could expand that excitement to the democratic process. And to do that, we’ll probably have to get away from having the same two teams in every electoral Super Bowl.