Several stories caught my eye this weekend: a poignant story about the struggles of the underclass in America, the renewed budget talks between House Speaker John A. Boehner and President Obama, and, forgive me, the Redskins’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
The story of Tabitha Rouzzo, a Western Pennsylvania teenager struggling to escape the fate of her mother and many of her peers — teen pregnancy, a life of dependency — exposes all of the fissures opened in the recent presidential election. Is the problem a lack of opportunity caused by an economic plutocracy where the few hold all the cards; or by a welfare state that saps initiative and is the opiate of those who depend on it?
The article implies that the answer contains elements of both views. The deck is stacked against millions of Americans, but a life of dependence is, of course, only palliative at best. In short, government has to find a new and much more sophisticated role of helping the underclass, but the individuals themselves will be best served if they, as this teenager is doing so valiantly, recognize they will have to fight for everything.
Unlike the problem of a permanent underclass, the notion that both sides must give has been well known on the “fiscal cliff” issue for many months. The question has always been when. I have no idea if it is now, but I guess it is encouraging that the two chief negotiators are speaking once again. A word of praise for Boehner: he seems to have a bit of the statesman in the way he is not (yet) following the advice of some to simply give the president his tax hikes and let everything else fall off the cliff. It must be awfully tempting to call the president's bluff and watch him sweat. Perhaps the speaker has the wisdom to see that the “victory” would be short, like an overhead winner in a tennis match that still has far to go.
And, now, for my favorite: the Redskins. My friends excuse my obsession (a few encourage it) with the team that dates back to the Norm Snead-Sonny Jurgensen trade. Loyalty, thick and thin — the only kind there is as a fan of sports or politics.
One’s faith has been tested so much lately by the team’s gross mismanagement of what is really a public trust. But then there is Robert Griffin III. He has been remarkable beyond expectation, but yesterday the Redskins played their best game in decades, gutting out a win against one of the toughest defenses in football, the Ravens.
Griffin didn’t finish the game, having left with a knee injury. But before he left, he performed the feat of a hero. After sitting out one play, he returned, knee already injured, and helped start the winning drive. And then collapsed.
This is the anticipated poignancy of RGIII's career: his will to win will undo him prematurely. His rarity is described in A.E. Housman's poem, “To An Athlete Dying Young,” “And early though the laurel grows / It withers quicker than the rose.”
Every time RGIII drops back, runs, scrambles, you think it could be the beginning of the end. He has already been concussed and now has a sprained knee, although not a torn one — yet.
I worry that Mike Shanahan is putting his legacy as a coach ahead of his quarterback and his team’s future. In a politician, we call that statesmanship: LBJ putting his greatest achievement, the Civil Rights Act, ahead of the Democratic Party. But I’m not quite sure what to call it in a coach; he's not the one heading to the MRI tube or the neurologist.