Last month, a well-known cable network broadcast an annual entertainment extravaganza, and many people across the country tuned in. With fans glued to their television sets, the participants wrestled with their foes via fiery speeches and loosely staged fights. The spectacle made for good TV, and it was hard to look away.
And then, when all was said and done, they passed a budget.
I’m describing, of course, Congress’s latest fiscal debate, but unlike WrestleMania, which took place a few days later, BudgetMania will have a serious impact on the country’s balance sheet for months to come.
Not to mention, the costumes just weren’t as good.
It’s likely a coincidence that the House and Senate budgets were released and debated just a few days before professional wrestling’s premier annual event. But the more I considered the happenstance, I couldn’t help but see a number of parallels.
And perhaps unsurprisingly, the juxtaposition of the two events makes WrestleMania look all the better by comparison.
1. Most people know it’s a show
WWE and Congress both have their dedicated supporters, but when it comes to wrestling, people know there is a bit of, well, creative license involved. Contrast that with the many in the political establishment who regularly pretend congressional debates are a lot realer than they actually are.
On just one night, Congress considered six alternative budgets, but most of the deliberations were roughly as spontaneous as the nine matches at last month’s WrestleMania. Still, many in the public, media, and Congress treated the former as if they would meaningfully change how much Congress spends right away.
We know congressional dealings like these are usually just as much a show as WrestleMania, but they are less entertaining. Politicians can’t even knock out reporters when they want to. But while WWE is more fun…
2. It’s easier to take WrestleMania seriously
Even though it lost money last year, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. typically operates firmly in the black, and it continues to see increasing demand for its product.
Contrast that with Washington, which has been operating in the red for more than a decade – with the only growth it produces being in debt and spending. Only one of these business models is likely to prove sustainable in the long run, and it’s not the one based in Washington.
Americans know that Congress runs a failing business, and they don’t approve. It’s no coincidence that people view Nickelback more favorably than they do Congress.
Despite the public disdain, Congress continues to maintain questionable standards. It’s safe to say this guy probably wouldn’t last very long on WWE’s corporate board, but he’s had a safe seat in Washington for eight years and counting.
3. It’s easier – and cheaper – to watch WrestleMania
For about $60 and a few hours of pay-per-view on Sunday night, anyone can watch WrestleMania. But there’s a lot more involved in keeping track of Congress. The public show they put on is usually just a small part of the production.
For one, many of the decisions politicians make don’t happen in the light of day. Key votes often drag throughout the night, either by accident or plan, and the real work Congress does isn’t broadcast on TV.
It’s reasonable to think deal making and compromise can’t always be public, but crucial work, such as the Senate’s amendment process for the National Defense Authorization Act, is deliberately kept secret – for reasons that are never explained very well.
4. WrestleMania doesn’t spend your money without your permission
There are some relatively minor exceptions, but generally, WWE fans know that they chose to spend money and participate in the show. While a few hundred thousand dollars in proposed state subsidies are certainly worth getting upset over, they pale in comparison to the billions Congress throws around without batting an eye.
Some are definitely better than others, but all of this year’s proposed budgets authorize tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. Every initiative and pet project throughout the year comes out of our pocketbooks – whether we like it or not.
Overall, of course, we are comparing apples and oranges here – or maybe unitards and suits. The process of governing is complex, a lot more so than staging a wrestling match. But with our money and economic future at stake, Americans should demand better than a show.