What's Missing in Washington? Ray Lewis!

When the lights dimmed (for the second time) in the New Orleans Superdome, Ray Lewis and his teammates capped off a historic playoff run, beating the Manning-led, #1 seed Broncos, the #2 Patriots quarterbacked by three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, and rising star Colin Kaepernick whose second half heroics were stopped just five yards short of the endzone in an epic conclusion to Super Bowl 47. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis at the NFL Super Bowl XLVII. photo credit TIME sports

Upon his return in January from a triceps tear suffered in October, Lewis announced that he would retire at the conclusion of the 2012 season, win or lose.  This announcement came as the Ravens stumbled into the playoffs, losing four out of their last five games in the regular season and at a point when many sports analysts dismissed the Ravens as a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

But it was just what the Ravens needed.  As all successful leaders do, Lewis somehow managed to rally his down-and-out team against improbable odds and lead the franchise to its second Super Bowl victory.

While Lewis effectively rallied his teammates and the city of Baltimore, leaders in Washington have failed to unite and tackle the nation’s major problems.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported on January 30th that GDP grew at a negative rate of 0.1 % in the fourth quarter, further perpetuating what has been the worst growth rate after a recession in U.S. history.  On the following day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs numbers for the fourth quarter showing little change in the unemployment rate at 7.9 percent, leaving 12.3 million Americans still out of work.

With the economy slumping and government spending out of control, the Senate has failed to pass a budget in nearly four years.  As the clock ticks down on America’s fiscal future, Congress seems content to punt the ball by repeatedly raising the debt ceiling without a viable solution to the nation’s looming debt crisis.

There are no resolutions in Washington because there are few leaders like Ray Lewis.  Ray Lewis is one of the most talented linebackers to ever play football, but his legacy surpasses talent.  His hard-hitting passion and William Wallace-like conviction can be heard in his pre-game speeches, but these qualities are even more evident in his determined style of play.

In what was supposed to be a season-ending triceps injury, Lewis returned in less than three months and contributed to the Ravens’ success with 51 tackles, surpassing Dan Morgan for the most tackles in postseason history.  When adversity strikes, Lewis hits back. He doesn’t shy away from challenges; he embraces them as opportunities.

But Lewis’s contribution far exceeded 51 tackles.  Lewis was a great player because he made those around him great.  Players saw his drive and enthusiasm and discovered in themselves a will to win.

It wasn’t always pretty.  The Ravens needed a 70-yard Hail Mary pass in the closing minutes of regulation and an overtime interception to win against Denver--but they got the job done.  The Ravens’ defense, who had been shredded nearly the entire second half, conjured a remarkable goal-line stand to stop the surging 49ers in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl.

That’s exactly the kind of collective strength and determination that Washington lawmakers need.  But where’s the leadership?

In 2009, newly elected President Obama promised to cut the nation’s debt in half by the end of his first term.  What does he have to show for it?  An unprecedented four straight years of a $1 trillion deficit, putting the debt over $16 trillion.

This is not to make a partisan point.  John Boehner had momentum as Speaker after Republicans gained 63 seats in the House in 2010, but subsequently fell short in pitching a captivating vision for Americans as reflected in the outcome of the 2012 elections.  Both leaders have been largely ineffective in transcending ideology and rallying lawmakers and the public to support their policy proposals.

So why was Ray Lewis able to inspire while Washington lawmakers cannot?  It’s because Ray Lewis led by example, not just with words and empty promises.  Lewis sacrificed himself before demanding sacrifice from others.  He fought for his team and never stopped believing in them; in return, they continued to believe in him.

Likewise, we need decision makers in Washington who are committed to the welfare of the American people and have the capacity to engage policy challenges with bold solutions. Politics is supposed to be about promoting the common good--being devoted to the team.  But this kind of deference is rare in Washington, both among congressional teammates and toward those who are supposed to be their fans, the American people.

Instead, Americans see politicians who are more interested in getting re-elected than in putting in the difficult and sometimes messy teamwork needed to get the job done.  If we are to see victory in the coming seasons of Washington politics, we will need more leaders like Lewis, with the backbone to fight for the team and sack America’s economic challenges.