opinion by Scott Shackelford
Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may or may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Many of us can recall what they wore during a signature event in their lives – but ask a person to identify the nation a favorite dress or pair of jeans was stitched in and we’re stumped. I had no idea the grayish T-shirt I’m wearing right now was made in Bolivia until five seconds ago. It’s loose, soft, and looks good .I like it. And that’s about all the thought we put into it.
So it is easy to appreciate the giant headache the U.S. Olympic Committee created by choosing to dress this year’s U.S. athletes in opening ceremony blazers and berets made in China. And with only a short time left before the 2012 summer games open in London, it is difficult to imagine there being room to correct what several members of Congress see as an egregious error in judgment.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the USOC should “take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them.” Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., pointed to the “600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in this country and the Olympic committee is outsourcing the manufacturing of uniforms to China? That is not just outrageous, it’s just plain dumb.”
“You’d think they know better,” Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, was quoted as saying.
And the bipartisan railing continued closer to home too, as U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman were also quick to agree that American athletes should be wearing clothes made in the USA.
Yes, there’s no sense denying it: the USOC goofed up. Like the American flags flying over the U.S. Capital or suits worn by an American president, some cloth creations ought not be foreign born – if not for national pride, then for the simple sake of throwing a little extra business to a U.S. workforce trapped in a recession that won’t let up.
For its part, the USOC is (at least for now) standing by their much-criticized decision, in part because uniform designer Ralph Lauren “is an iconic American company.”
Clearly the USOC doesn’t want to admit they made an embarrassing mistake; but, if they could, they might point at many of the major clothing labels based in the United States and ask which ones do not also outsource manufacturing costs overseas these days. After the abuse it has taken, the USOC also has a right to ask members of Congress why it allows U.S. businesses to import such a glut of items (not just clothing) from around the world – and especially from China – if they really have such an enormous problem living in this increasingly integrated “flat world” of ours.
Or – in reality – is this whole conversation piece just an opportunity for Congress to act confidently and passionately about some subject – any subject – in the midst of an election year without having to worry about much political retribution on the backside?
The real story here isn’t the USOC’s botched shopping spree. The real story is about this ultimately minor episode serving as a reminder that Congress yet retains the ability to act with one voice, and with passion, if it so chooses. That it almost never does anymore, and in spite of the financial calamity so many middle class families face these days, should be the real outrage.
Our lawmakers, the ones tasked with preventing our nation from financial ruin, can’t seem to reach a deal, any deal, on a way to keep the federal deficit (which now sits at $15.8 trillion) from getting any worse – but allow a couple U.S. Olympic athletes to walk around in apparel made in China, and they knock each other over to locate a microphone.
Meanwhile, we have troops serving in Afghanistan at this very moment, participating in a conflict that may well descend into civil war the moment U.S. troops pull out in 2014, that would put both the hundreds of billions of dollars spent there and the lives lost into question. Where is the outrage over that?
It would be easy to continue. These days America has a lot of tough problems requiring a lot of diligent work by really smart people. Our representatives in Congress could be the ones who someday get to write memoirs about how they helped save this nation from financial ruin.
But heads up: No one is going to buy a book filled with chapters about how way back in 2012 the USOC totally blew it by signing off on Olympic uniforms made in China, and how members of Congress spiked a verbal football in its face because of it.
Citizens, I’d say, stand a better chance of respecting their representatives, and maybe even voting for them, if they begin placing their mouths and minds in the employment of solutions for the searing problems – like protecting the vast majority of us from Wall Street, inspiring serious tax reform, and bringing down soaring health care/educational costs – that threaten to leave the American dream irredeemably cracked.
Go USA indeed.