As the world tried to set aside its political differences for a few short weeks, athletes met in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, an event that has always promoted goodwill and brotherhood among nations. I don’t know if the Olympics really do anything substantial towards that ideal, but it’s never a bad idea for people of diverse backgrounds to communicate with each other and celebrate those differences as well as the talents that bring them together. Athletes, artists and musicians are alike in that it’s their devotion to talent, art, passion and craft that matters, not where they’re from or what the political bent of their home country is. Music, sports and art transcend mere boundaries, both physical and of the mind.
Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, an unprecedented feat surpassing Mark Spitz’s amazing accomplishments more than 30 years ago. I listened to NPR last weekend as they interviewed young swimmers, some as young as seven years old, who were inspired by Phelps and wanted to emulate him. The Olympics always inspires accomplishment in young people as they see for themselves what can be done with dedication and hard work. That’s part of the magical allure of the Games for us all. With very few exceptions, the Olympics are “cleaner” than the everyday sports that bombard us on television, with faces that are fresher and less jaded than overpaid jocks who couldn’t care less about what their actions on and off the playing field mean to thousands of young fans who watch their every move.
Marring this year’s Olympic spirit, was the very real overshadowing of events in Eastern Europe, namely in Georgia. As Russian tanks and troops overrun the country in a strange visual replay of Prague in 1968, the world waits and wonders what the outcome will be. Georgia had been making overtures to joining NATO and that is probably the underlying major reason for Russia’s move, but the world’s remaining superpower is in a poor position to do anything about it. George Bush has long cashed in his chips to voice an opinion of another country’s invasion. His calls to Russia to heed the United Nations decrees would ring false as well if they weren’t so sadly comical.
Over the weekend, presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain proposed a League of Democracies that would join to protect democracies and republics throughout the world whenever aggression threatened. Does this make sense? Do we really need yet another organization to issue statements in defense of beleaguered countries that amount to so much lip service? The free countries of the world will surely issue those statements as they confer with each other through the usual back channels and in the press. The United Nations is a much better place in which to air out and argue actions and consequences, simply because there are more differences there; a reached consensus of differing minds is surely more powerful and lasting than one that is unilaterally based and confers legitimacy on the final decision. The President’s father, George H. W. Bush knew this. President George W. Bush wishes he had heeded this. And Vladimir Putin has yet to learn this.