Mr. Sean goes to Washington

Brock Lesnar is America

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When Brock Lesnar became the UFC heavyweight champ — for non-fans, that’s where the fighters get to keep the fight going when one guy hits the ground — he seemingly had the potential to be unbeatable. Crushing opponents, he dominated press coverage for the sport and set himself up a private training complex near his Minnesota home, based on the theory people could go to him instead of him going to them. Recently he took on a challenger named Cain Velasquez and was beaten like a gong. Now it’s possible Lesnar is quitting mixed martial arts and returning to pro wrestling and its bigger paydays. The weirdest thing about this? He’s only had seven fights.

Actually, he’s only had six fights technically, as one of those bouts occurred before he joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship. So to review, in just six fights he went from novice to contender to champion to former champ to possibly retired. And I’ll come out and say it: what the hell is wrong with this picture?

Let it be noted that Brock Lesnar is an undeniably great athlete (I paid tribute to this once here). He was the NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ, a star in WWE (which is fake but requires undeniably real amounts of endurance and pain threshold), nearly made the Minnesota Vikings despite not having played football since high school, then conquered the UFC. But when we look back, his legacy is…what? A huge guy who crushed smaller people until he wound up facing a guy roughly his size who beat his ass, at which point he decided to do something else?

It should be noted Lesnar has had health problems, nearly dying from a flukish intestinal disorder. That said, he’s had two fights since then and boasted about having the best cardio of his life recently. Now it’s over? I’ve recently been working on a piece about Muhammad Ali…and I think we might not refer to him as the Greatest if after that first loss to Joe Frazier he’d announced, “Punches hurt!” and given a new sport a shot. (Ironically, Ali did fight a pro wrestler once — it didn’t go well for anybody.)

Here’s where this ties to America. Bob Herbert recently wrote an incredibly depressing piece about our nation’s water systems. This is, undeniably, a serious problem that will not fix itself if we just ignore it and will likely have big implications for the general population (unless we kick that darned water habit). What are the odds of us seriously addressing this? What politician is going to have the courage to say, “I know things are bad, but by addressing this problem there will be undeniable benefits in the future — though in the short time it will cost a lot of money — probably even more than I’m stating now, since you know there are always cost overruns and such — and maybe even inconvenience some people, since construction is noisy. WHO’S WITH ME, GANG!?!” Best not to think about it. It’ll be fine.

I believe that America, like Brock Lesnar, still has unequaled potential. We accomplish great things even when we’re half-assing it. But do we have the will power to say, “It’s time to buckle down and try new things and maybe even get slapped around for awhile instead of staying in our comfort zone”, so when we reemerge we’ll be ready for all challengers? I’d like to think so, but then again we can’t even appoint judges.

Around 10 percent of our federal and appellate courts are currently unstaffed, and with retirements occurring at a faster rate than new appointments, it will only get worse. Ever since the 2000 election (when every Supreme Court justice abandoned their traditional principles in an attempt to get their guy in the presidency), there’s been no point in pretending judges are above the political fray, but at the same time…this isn’t the Supreme Court. This is not the final word on American law. These are offices that need to be filled so our justice system doesn’t grind to a screeching halt, because if that happens we’re no better than Italy. Shame on Republicans for mindlessly blocking these appointments, but put the blame on Obama for making them such a low-priority during his time in office too: when you have as many votes as he did and still can’t get anything done, you done messed up.

The 2010 election will be hailed as a triumph for the Tea Party, but it shouldn’t. American politics follows a basic pattern of one party running things until finally the American public decides they suck too much to ignore it any longer, at which they give the other guys a shot, at which point they suck and things snap back in the other direction. This was a moment when America wanted to say, “Enough for now!” (it happened to Reagan and Clinton in their first terms too), but the Tea Party fielded so many crap candidates it enabled the Democrats to hold on to the Senate. The American public desperately wanted to let them win (particularly in Nevada, which could not be more sick of Harry Reid)…but what the Republicans were peddling was so weak in many cases people held their noses and stayed the course — the fact that in Alaska enough people were motivated to learn to spell an approximation of “Murkowski” rather than back Tea Party favorite Joe Miller says quite a bit about this crop. This would seem to justify the new folk arriving in Washington properly humbled, recognizing people want change but also that they’re no Messiahs.

Just as it’s worth Obama wondering how he’s managed to let so much slip away so quickly and figuring out what changes he can make.

Ideally, this would result in both sides working together and actually accomplishing something, so we’d have something to vote for in 2012 and we could show America had risen to the occasion, difficult though it was.

But it’s more likely we’ll continue to be like Brock, alternating between strutting and sulking with no lessons learned in the middle, still searching for that next easy payday.

Mr. Sean Goes to Washington appears each Thursday.

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