Anyone I meet quickly learns two things about me: (1) I am a proudly patriotic American; and (2) I am a rock-ribbed conservative. But if you meet me during football season, the first thing you learn might be that I am a die hard Redskins fan.
Sports in an interesting phenomenon. I am a Redskins fan because I am a Redskins fan. There is no deeper reasoning. It is not because I have studied the coaching style of head coach Jay Gruden. It is not because I like the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins, although I do and the Redskins better re-sign him. It is certainly not because I like the management decisions of team owner Daniel Snyder. I am a Redskins fan because at an early age I decided to be a Redskins fan, and that will remain true no matter their style of play, their record, or who is a part of the team.
When DeSean Jackson was a wide receiver for division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles, I hated him. I thought he was an overrated arrogant showboat. Then, in 2013, he was released by the Eagles and signed with the Redskins five days later. I had a lot of time to think about it over those five days, and the moment Jackson donned a Redskins jersey I realized he is actually one of the best wide receivers in the game and deserves to celebrate when he makes a great play… for the Redskins. Winning football games is all that matters, and the Redskins should sign the most talented players and run whatever plays will help them win.
I make no pretensions about my sports fandom. My loyalty is to the team. Players come and go, and my support is based entirely on the color of their jersey.
But that is not how it is supposed to work in politics. When I turned 18, I registered as a Republican because I had studied the issues and that was the party that most closely advocated for what I believed in. I listened to the old speeches by Ronald Reagan and they spoke to me. I have never fully agreed with any Republican, but for the most part they could be relied upon to fight for an agenda I supported. My loyalty was never to an individual politician, or to the Republican Party, but to the conservative ideas Republicans represented – and by and large still represent today.
Too many people treat politics as a sport, backing whatever politician is wearing the right colored jersey. I have seen Republicans who spent their entire careers advocating for free markets and free trade suddenly support crony capitalism and protectionist tariffs following Trump’s election. Democrats who were in the streets marching against Bush’s wars and drone program suddenly had other things to do after January 20, 2009, but have regained their anti-war passion in the last month. The examples are numerous on both sides.
And yet I cannot criticize this too harshly. It is only natural. Political parties become a sort of tribe, and you are expected to support members of your tribe, just as they are expected to support you. And just like the ancient tribal societies, when someone from another tribe attacks, you put aside internecine squabbles to fight back. That is a psychological imperative that is very difficult to overcome.
But we should try. If our only concern is that the winning politician is wearing the red or blue jersey, what is it all for? I’ll be the first to admit that I am a politics nerd, but it is not nearly as entertaining as Sunday Night Football, and it is a lot more emotionally draining. I persist in following, studying, and debating politics because I care deeply about the policies that get enacted.
I like it when the people in the red jersey are elected. But that is only because I expect their election to turn into conservative policies. When they do not, when politicians of any party vote for big government liberal policies, I will oppose them. Because politics is not a sport. Our loyalties should be to ideas, not labels. Support people who believe what you believe, and argue it passionately. But do it for an ideology, not a party.