The Misdirection Play

Football and politics have a lot in common; and by football I am mean charged-up and violent American football. Careful preparation and brute force are foundational elements for both “sports”. The ability to get the job done, regardless of ethics, feelings, sunshine, or puppy dogs is also prized in each arena. One tactical element existing in both politics and football that I cherish, is the misdirection play. The premise is simple; get the defense moving one way, and go in the other direction. Well-designed misdirection plays often feature another nasty (and fun) ploy, the trap block. The defender chasing the play is influenced into a block that he never sees coming. The hit, properly delivered, can have the tendency of making that player, well, less aggressive for the rest of the game.

Misdirection is run in politics all the time. In fact, it is run by all parties, in every legislative session, at every level of American politics. In football, the play is designed to influence and trap the opposition; in politics, the play is usually designed to influence the voter and trap the opposing lawmaker. Witness the last major funding authorization for the Iraq War under President Bush. Both Democrats and Republicans crafted funding bills, and both contained major items not related to the war. These items were traps for the other party, existing only to force lawmakers into a vote that they would have to defend in the next election. It is certainly something that informed voters should be aware of when considering the next negative ad campaign they see (from either party).

This tactic can definitely backfire on the user. The Republican party has spent 40 years on Medicare, first opposing its passage (see Ronald Reagan’s passionate “Medicare is the first step to Communism” speech), then trying to kill or privatize the program. This year, their misdirection play was to “support” Medicare against Democratic attempts to reform it as a means of paying for health reform. The backfire; after months “defending” Medicare against Democratic attacks, they have little or no leverage now that the liberals have settled on a premium-based expansion of the program as a bulwark of reform.

Of course, backfire is bipartisan. Al Gore believed that America was not sophisticated enough to understand the whole package of effects related to massive carbon-dumping, deforestation, and chemical waste that we are inflicting on nature. As such, he focused on something he thought would play well; global warming with a particular focus on its effects on large media markets like South Florida and New York. Branding the whole problem “Global Warming” was bad enough; there is now a plurality in the U.S. who can’t or won’t separate local weather from terrestrial climate (yes, Virgina, there is a difference). Thanks to that unfortunate label, and the carbon-excessive lifestyle of Gore himself, vast portions of the American public think that this problem is a political debate about polar bears and beachfront property.

All of which leads me back to football. Beating the trap is about “staying home” and sticking to your responsibilities. Voters are called to beat the trap by reading politics the way a good defense reads an offense. Al Gore tried to sell a big play in order to get the public to look at a series of important but obscure facts. Yes, facts. The rational middle is challenging voters to read the offense on the field now; the team fielded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Exxon Mobile, and the rest of Big Oil. When you are told that a bunch of mild-mannered climate scientists have been plotting world domination through climate change, you have cause to think. When you are told that climate change is a Marxist/Totalitarian plot, you can consider Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Putin, Gaddafi and others. They all rely on oil…not windmills. In any good conspiracy, one should always follow the money, and climate scientists aren’t rolling Bentleys.

Film study is critical in football and politics, and we have seen these plays before. When someone is arguing for the middle class while simultaneously voting for a big industrial interest, you know that you are watching the misdirection from inside the play. One argument is about hot air, and the other is full of it.

The rational middle is listening…