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Gary Horton: Victors can’t get all the spoils

Posted: February 19, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 19, 2014 2:00 a.m.

“To the victors go the spoils.”

Our collective morality wants to believe in the justness of this austere and altruistic principle.

It sounds like a simple mathematical equation, yet on further consideration, we see we can allow society’s victors only so much gain and control before the game they’re playing goes helter-skelter--excessively consolidated power and over-control.

It’s Olympics time, and most have watched at least portions of these exciting games. It’s hard to come away from them unimpressed with the incredible human effort driving these athletes to previously impossible limits of human performance.

Time and again, we hear the phrase “New World Record,” and we thrill to the performances rendered, even as this time more nations than ever participated in the gold, silver, and bronze spoils.

Yet amidst Olympic triumphal glory exists more widely disbursed Olympic angst. A total of 119 national Olympic teams are competing, yet as of this writing, only 26 of them have achieved medals.

In practical terms, nine nations alone dominate the game, earning a full 70 percent of all medals.

Winter Olympic medal are earned on a highly skewed curve where the controlling factors aren’t just innate athletic ability and training, but also the overall wealth of the countries, their climates, and sports culture.

Hence, Norway, Germany, the U.S., Russia, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland own these Olympics. Simply put, the spoils accrue to countries with the appropriate means, as athletes from those nations are best empowered to lever their talents and climb required ladders.

Similar trends abound around us. We see sports families becoming sports dynasties, as successful quarterback dads lever genetics, money, and connections at sons, turning second generations into statistically improbable successful NFL quarterbacks.

Politically, Bushes begat junior Bushes, cousin Bushes, and grandson Bushes; Bill gives us Hillary, Gores connect to more Gores up and down the Gore family tree.

And Mr. McKeon would have sent us Patricia had local Republicans not splintered off. Influence, money and connections skew the playing fields of life all around — and not always to the best result for anyone but the skewers.

Still, we want to believe we’re all born equal where all are free to rise or fall, according to our efforts. That’s the American mythos that keeps us plugging ahead.

But be honest: Would George W. Bush ever have been president had his dad, George H.W. Bush, not been president before him?

And would Steve Knight even be running for Congress without his locally famous dad? When we capitulate to such manipulation we deceive our own best interests.

The cream does not always rise to the top. Instead, favored players can be teed up by powerful, connected forces.

Better competitors may be overshadowed and pushed out. Do Democrats really have no better choice than Hillary Clinton to take up the charge in 2016? In a nation of 340 million, is this one familiar and connected name our very best?

Was George W. Bush America’s finest in 2004? Heaven forbid!

And what of Steve Knight in the 25th District in 2014? All familiar names, all family dynasties, and all propelled by personal connection as much as talent alone.

We thrill to our Mannings and our Andrettis; we fall in line for our Clintons, our Bushes, and Kennedys — and we hoot and holler for the powerful nations dominating our Olympics.

But none of this means the very best rise to the top or the competition has reached its true peak, or that voters are best served. It means we’ve suffered those with the influence to tilt the field for one more go-around.

We know that just 1,100 American families control 20 percent of America’s wealth and blithely hope they’d never use that power to consolidate even more. We see more dynasty candidates and shrug shoulders as if that’s the natural way of political life.

We’d like to believe we can trust a “no holds barred, to the victor go the spoils” system, but clearly we see that operating without limits, rules, and laws. Competition suffers, while progress, achievement, and the public good is more poorly served.

Just as sport needs open access and fair rules to allow talent to rise, so do politics and capitalism and modernfinance require rules and regulations to check exaggerated influence and maintain level fields.

Insufficient regulation means the rich get richer, the strong get stronger, abuse may increase, and the games of life become increasingly unequal for all but the influential.

Of course, there’s powerful pushback as the public demands equality of access and fair competition through endeavors of society. The privileged will naturally strive to hold and grow their advantage.

This is a struggle for America’s future and soul, and it will require Olympic courage for America’s middle class to force change back toward level playing fields.

But our victory will be our children’s and society’s gain, as, with these 2014 Olympics, more competitors gain greater access to level competition, providing increasingly “world record” results.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port! runs Wednesdays in The Signal.



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