OK, I'm kidding - sort of. But bear with me. Before we get to the travesty of the Americans' match against Slovenia, let me explain what I mean.
At their cores, conservatism and liberalism have different approaches to bad behavior, whether we're talking about kids acting out or criminals making mayhem. The conservative perspective says that people are fundamentally sinful and fallen, and will get away with as much as they can. You need harsh penalties to keep them from straying, otherwise they'll run rampant. The liberal perspective says that people are fundamentally good, and while punishment is necessary for some actions, on the whole you do a better job with carrots than sticks.
That's an extremely simplified version of the difference, but you can see it in parenting styles, and most clearly in the criminal justice system. There, it often seems that the conservative perspective says that allowing a guilty person to go free is worse than punishing an innocent person. Or even that allowing a guilty person to avoid the death penalty but remain in jail is worse than executing an innocent person.
Which is what brings us to the World Cup. Many officials - and certainly the head referee of this afternoon's game between the U.S. and Slovenia - seem to be operating from an exaggerated right-wing perspective, one that says harsh, even unjust penalties are necessary to keep the players in line. In this game, the referee was handing out yellow cards like candy, seemingly losing the distinction between "a foul" and "a foul egregious enough to warrant a yellow card." The theory being, presumably, that if he didn't throw a bunch of yellow cards around, the game might get too rough.
In the game's final minutes, after the U.S. had battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game, they had a free kick on the Slovenians' goal. Landon Donovan launched in a perfect cross, and Maurice Edu slipped through the pack of defenders and rocketed a volley into the back of the net. But before the Americans could start celebrating, the whistle blew. Was someone off-sides? Had someone committed a foul? The referee himself didn't seem to know. Eventually, he charged a foul to Edu, perhaps the one player in the whole scrum who neither pushed anyone nor was pushed.
So I submit that the ref was operating from an extreme right-wing ideology: better to punish somebody, even if you're not sure that he actually did anything wrong, than to just let the game proceed and have the players think they can get away with anything. (I'd also guess that he expected someone to do something wrong, and blew his whistle almost reflexively, then had to come up with someone to charge, so he went with Edu.) So maybe there's something for conservatives to like in soccer after all!
-- Paul Waldman
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