Election season is making me realize that Americans memorize too many statistics about things that don't matter and too few about the things that do.
Watching the presidential and vice presidential debates is exactly like watching football, for the most part. They both revolve around getting excited for a payoff that comes only about 10 percent of the time you spend watching them. In football you sit through three consecutive three-and-outs before someone finally gets in the red zone, then makes a stupid mistake and ends up settling for a field goal. In political debates, you sit through 20 minutes of talking points and embarrassingly empty flattery about how America is the greatest country in the world before one of the candidates slips up and allows just a grain of actual policy-related opinion to slip out unintentionally.
But here's the major difference between football and politics: In football the viewer is constantly being inundated with statistics and facts every single second while in politics it's just assumed that politicians and the media are usually not telling the entire truth. As a result, people in this country know way too much about football and not nearly enough about politics.
If we want to get people to understand politics as well as they understand football, we should try to make the two as similar as possible. Football seems to have found a winning formula for getting people to memorize a wealth of statistics for no discernable reason, which is why I propose we engage in fantasy politics leagues -- many of which can already be found on the Internet on Web sites like FantasyCongress.com.
Each participant in a league chooses a line-up consisting of a few of his or her favorite senators and state representatives. Then they watch excitedly each week as their team racks up points and try to outdo their opponent's team in that week's match up.
A senator or representative can gain points by delivering a particularly effective filibuster, or more commonly, by being on the winning side of any vote. The more often your congressman votes with the majority, the more points you get. And there are even bigger points for a congressman sponsoring a bill that gets passed, and bigger points still for the congressman who introduces a successful bill. But watch out, because if a scandal breaks, your congressman could lose serious points for your team!
Attracting more people to engage in fantasy politics would, without question, lead to Americans being more informed about politics than any other nation in the world at any point in history. I imagine that, while sitting down to watch an upcoming presidential debate, a group of friends might crack open a few beers, don their favorite politicians' jerseys (or at the very least, American flag lapel pins) and get ready to see who kicks whose ass in their fantasy politics league.
And everyone would be hyper-informed about everything. Barack Obama would question John McCain on his voting record as it relates to a particular issue, let's say the economy, and chastise him for supporting some specific bill. This would cause an uproar at home, because one of your friends has Barack Obama on his fantasy team, and he knows that Obama backed that exact same bill that he is denouncing McCain for supporting, and he knows this because he got big points for it three weeks ago, propelling him to an unprecedented 8-1 record this season.
In the world of fantasy politics, the decisions our congressmen make actually matter. The difference between winning and losing an entire week could hinge on a single vote in the House of Representatives or Senate, and the only thing worse than being poorly informed is being a loser.