With the Olympics kicking off, we’ve heard a lot of commentary about the type of political advertising that should run while the event is taking place. A recent article in the New York Times highlights the precedent that has been set for political ads during the 2012 London Olympics— political messages should coincide with the uplifting spirit of the Olympics. In fact, the article tells us, research done by NBC has shown that viewers of the 2012 London Olympics don’t even want to see negative advertisements.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics there were political commercials that aired, one of which was rendered as an attack ad stemming from the McCain campaign. Even though the ad was considered to be effective (it’s the one that tried to label Obama as being a “celebrity”), many people found the timing of the ad to be distasteful. The Olympics are about being competitive while maintaining a reserve that embodies humility.
And, I must agree that it only makes sense that in light of the presidential election, our politicians follow examples set by Olympic athletes.
Olympic athletes and presidential candidates share some striking similarities. Just as Olympic athletes are competing for the highest honor an athlete can achieve (a gold medal), presidential candidates are competing for the highest honor an elected official can achieve (the presidency). Team USA is a manifestation of what we as a country idolize. In The United States, in particular, the values which shape our national identity parallel that of an Olympic athlete and the ideal President: a strong work ethic, dedication, humility, tenacity, determination, and a deep sense of patriotism. While incredibly gifted, you seldom hear Olympic athletes boast about their talents in ways that aim to cut down their opponents. Although competitive, most Olympic athletes generally refrain from trash talk; the Olympic Games are supposed to unite, not divide.
During his farewell address, George Washington warned against the creation of political parties in fear that they would create divisiveness. By no means is having two dominant political parties necessarily a bad thing. However there is something to be said about President Washington’s warning during the Olympic season. At the end of the day, Republican or Democrat, we’re all Americans. In the spirit of the Olympic Games there is an opportunity for presidential campaigns to take a break from the traditional mud-slinging, if only momentarily, in acknowledgement that despite our differences we are all a part of Team USA.