How to rename D.C.'s football team and help fix democracy, too
"Hang a lantern on your problem" was favorite advice from Robert F. Kennedy. In other words, confront a challenge head-on. Illuminate it. Then take steps to tackle it.
Dan Snyder, who announced this week that he will soon rename the NFL franchise he owns, has an opportunity to do one better than RFK's mantra.
By changing Washington's football team name to the Greenbacks, Snyder would not only move a controversial spotlight off of himself, he would also refract it onto an enormously important issue that is starved for more attention: the corrupting influence of big money in American government.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that Americans aren't already aware of this abomination in our politics. In fact, the overwhelming majority of us— regardless of political stripe — say we want reform.
A survey conducted by the University of Maryland found 88 percent believe it's important to reduce the influence of special-interest cash in Washington.
More dramatically, 75 percent support a constitutional amendment that would supersede the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC decision a decade ago and allow "Congress and the states to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others who seek to influence elections."
Our collective support for curbing corruption in Congress should come as no surprise. We know that the preferences of the wealthy influence legislative decisions far more than the rest of us. In fact, the desires of the top 10 percent matter 15 times more than the other 90 percent, according to research from Martin Gilens and Ben Page.
So if we all know that we're getting screwed by the billions of dollars washing through the Capitol, and if nearly all of us have said that we want to change this corrupt system, then why doesn't it happen?
The answer to that question is our national attention span. We don't have one. Not in a sustained enough way where most of us will take real and consistent action.
For instance, most Americans — even within that 75 percent who support a constitutional amendment — are not aware that there are proposed constitutional amendments sitting right now in both the House and the Senate.
But if we don't demand their passage, they won't pass. If we don't vote on the issue and then call our representatives once they're in office, nothing happens.
All of which brings me back to suggesting that Snyder rename his team the Washington Greenbacks. The allusion will be lost on no one. When you change the name of one of the most storied teams in NFL history to associate it with pay-for-play cash money — and that team is in the nation's capital — Americans will have no choice but to regularly contemplate why we allow a corrupt system to roll over us. Daily.
As an old political boss of mine used to say when we were collecting financial pledges: "You want them to remember it? Staple it to their foreheads."
Some might assert that it's nearly impossible to get a constitutional amendment through Congress and ratified by three-quarters of the states. It's an easy argument, since we haven't done so in a while. It's also silly. We've added 17 amendments to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights. Same rules.
Jeff Clements is the president of American Promise, a nonpartisan group dedicated to passing such an amendment to wack the flow of greenbacks. He's in the fight every day. He says he needs more fighters:
"In order to eliminate out-of-control big elite money from our political system, we need this 28th Amendment to the Constitution. American Promise has achieved great progress on this goal — but to make it a reality we'll need millions more Americans to make their voices heard."
Americans need a reminder. Regularly. The Greenbacks.
Yes, I'm aware that Snyder is a massively wealthy guy who almost certainly benefits from tax laws and other public policy decisions driven by special-interest cash. But it's never too late to do the right thing.
If he changed the name of the Redskins to some simple and non-controversial moniker, Snyder would at least be catching up to the 21st century.
But if he renamed it the Greenbacks, he'd be strengthening his country — and stepping into immortality.
Go big, Dan. And if it misses the mark, you won't need to sweat it — Greenbacks are also a species of fish. Worked out fine in Miami.
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