By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
This is water — David Foster Wallace
A place like Black Horse Pub (568 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope) exists in just about every neighborhood in New York. This is most certainly not a bad thing. Being a fan of Detroit sports, I know wholeheartedly that it is a blessing. For one, you get to meet people who have roots back in your hometown (or at least in the general area). Secondly, you don't have to travel very far to see your football team play the early Sunday game, which is a pretty serious deterrent after a long Saturday night.
Though one could consider places like Black Horse to be sports bars, they are certainly not what one thinks of when they hear the words "sports" and "bar", as these two words, when in tandem, usually entail fried food, stale taps and an obnoxious throng who take the chance to scream at every opportunity: when their team gets a base hit, a positive yard, an icing call. Black Horse does not cater to these types. (Then again, I've never been there for the European soccer games that they show during the middle of the day. Perhaps things get far more rambunctious then.) The bar has one of the better burgers in the area, as well as a solid pulled pork sandwich and a laundry list of good pints from a well maintained series of tap lines. It also has that Brooklyn preference for wood and exposed brick without being prohibitively expensive. It's one of my favorite places to watch sports, to drink, to eat and to have a conversation. Suffice to say, I spend a good amount of time at this pub.
My last visit happened very recently. The Lions had the Monday Night game, the Cardinals were heading to San Francisco for game seven of the NLCS, and Mitt Romney and Barak Obama were gearing up to settle once and for all who had more confidence, as confidence, as opposed to substance, is now the most important element of a presidential debate. This makes sense, as most of the substance from either candidate is misleading, false or centered around hollow rhetoric constructed to mask each side's refusal to offer specifics.
Confidence was especially important during this debate, the final one, as it was supposed to deal with foreign policy, and the two candidates are in complete accord on almost every foreign policy issue of major importance with the possible exception of spanking—though, as Obama has yet to formally weigh in on the issue, it is impossible to tell. Given that this hot bottom subject was probably not going to come up, on top of the fact that I'd been following the election for far too long, I was not all that interested in what either candidate was going to say. I had come to Black Horse to watch the Lions, to eat a good meal (I decided on the pulled pork) and to drink a few IPAs from a clean tap.
Black Horse Pub (Park Slope)
No surprise, the Lions proved to be as disappointing as they have been since well before I was born. As I sat there, my girlfriend reluctantly by my side, I began to complain about all of the things that they were doing wrong. Megatron should have caught that; Stafford should have hit the wide-open Pettigrew; the defense keeps making tackles that allow too much forward momentum; no one seems to be capable of holding onto the ball. Above the din of the Giants fans behind me, the Chicago fans down the bar, the other group of Giants fans by the door where the debate was on (as they had given up on watching what was turning out to be a blowout), was the sound of all three contests at once. Jon Gruden seemed to be arguing with Romney, Joe Buck with Obama. This was the very definition of cacophony.
A quick train of thought arose within me, the engine of which was the belief that Mitt Romney has essentially played Monday-morning quarterback for the entirety of the election season when it comes to foreign policy. While it may or may not be easier for me to say that another player would have caught a ball from Stafford as it is for Romney to say that he would have sent help to Benghazi before the attack back in September, the two claims are grounded in similar fallacies.
I don't mean to equate the Lions' dismal performance with the tragedy in Benghazi; I mean to say that the two critiques are simply analogous because they both assume that there was an error and that, had someone better been in the position of the individual (or, in the case of Benghazi, individuals) who made the error, it would not have happened. I want a better wide receiver who will catch the ball. Mitt Romney wants a better group of people communicating with diplomats so that they receive help when they request it. Both complaints believe that there was an error, but neither addresses any institutional changes that need to be made—they are simply pointing out a flaw in performance. The very unfortunate fact is that mistakes happen. The far more unfortunate fact is that these mistakes don't just happen during football games.
Such a thought led me to the second car on the train of thought. The Lions were not losing because of a few dropped passes; they were losing because their offense, as a whole, did not properly exploit the few holes in the Bears' defense. And yet I didn't actually know how to solve the problem. I couldn't have told anyone how to pick apart the Bears' defense because I'm not an expert at football. Looking to Gruden and Tirico for answers didn't prove fruitful. While they may know the game far better than I do, their solutions were about as good as the most exemplary fountain of no-shit observations by John Madden: catch the ball better, throw the ball better, block better, etc. This was essentially the same type of thing that the commentators were saying as the Giants worked on a Cardinals shutout, or when, during the previous week, the Tigers' (gloriously) swept the Yankees. Even in the days after the latter had happened, sports radio in New York could only come up with a single idea as to how to handle the most dominant starting pitching in baseball: have the guys opposing them hit the ball better. Did you hear that, Cano, Granderson, Rodriguez, Martin and Swisher? If you had just hit the ball better, you and the other All-Stars that comprise your team would be heading to the World Series!
In other words, these weren't solutions. Telling someone not to screw up is a foolproof way of telling them to do exactly what they are trying to do, only to do it better. Similarly, the Romney campaign may be trying to sell the idea that they are opposed to virtually every facet of the Obama Administration's foreign policy, but the only specifics they are giving are dropped balls and bad at-bats. In other words, they believe that mistakes should not be made, and that, if given the opportunity, a Romney Administration would not make them. This is not a critique of "failed policies"; this a critique of individual events where things didn't go as planned.
If one wants to address policy failure, one has to address the policy that allowed the tragedy to happen, not merely point out that tragedy should have been avoided. Like his baseless conjecture in the infamous Boca video, where he asserts that the stock market will rise upon his being elected, Romney seems incapable of following statements containing his most scathing Obama-bashing or dubious self-aggrandizing with anything that starts with the following word: Because.
It was about this time that I fully realized how useless these debates actually are. The political equivalent of the Monday-morning quarterback is the pundit, a person who, in Ancient Greece, would have been called a sophist. The job of the pundit is to argue, to make speculations, to make accusations, to offer expert opinions. However, they aren't speaking to experts when they get on the national stage. They are speaking in real time, in short sound bites for easy consumption. Granted, I assume that these individuals know what they are talking about far more than they let on, but it's difficult to tell when they proffer superficial insights, half-truths and meaningless banalities that don't address any issue at all.
And this was the caboose on the train of thought: I was watching, we were all watching, two pundits run for the highest office in the nation. As Obama spoke in his somehow patient and aggressive meter, and as Romney seemed to be playing an invisible accordion as he did his best Reagan rasp, it was obvious that they were just part of the din of media, figures occupying space on the televisions, facets of the spectator society—two idiots signifying nothing.
As we watch them, as we do with each game of the season or the most recent clip on YouTube to attract population attention, we spout out the obvious one-liners, take in little, and then move onto the next piece of entertainment. That's really all politics has become: a source of pathos, an operatic spectator sport. No one can analyze it seriously, or even contemplate much of it, as, like some eternal variety show, the next act is always-already about to go on. True, watching it all from a barstool at a place like Black Horse makes you realize just how absurd the whole charade is, but it's only the after the fourth or fifth pint that you can actually muster anything more than a wince. It would probably take another two or three to finally produce a decent laugh, but who the hell has the money for that anymore?