Ron Hart: Bread and circuses: Signs of a crumbling empire

Ron Hart

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. ”— John Adams

Like ancient Rome, the great American experiment with democracy is showing signs of demise. Historically, when the productive are out-voted by the parasites, it signals the decline of a country.

The Roman Empire crumbled when politicians pacified citizens with superficial forms of government hand-outs (bread) and shallow forms of distractions like vast stadiums where Christians were thrown to the lions (circuses). In modern times, Tim Tebow was sent to play in New York.

In 100 AD, satirist Decimus Juvenal in Satires X fittingly pointed out that society ends when voters are pacified by politicians with “bread and circuses.” Caesar doled out cushy government jobs, subsidized housing and bought the votes of the underclass with grain: the “bread” in "bread and circuses."

Today the “bread” comes in the form of food stamps, now cleverly renamed the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Food stamp enrollment has soared by 70 percent since 2008, from 28.2 million to a record 47.8 million recipients today. Even as unemployment peaked at 10 percent in 2009, SNAP kept growing. Oh, SNAP!

Obama even pays to advertise SNAP in Spanish in illegal immigrant areas. No wonder Mexico is now the most obese country. Mexicans are beating us at our own game. Illegals come here for the American dream, which is now defined as food stamps, housing, an Obama cell phone and a government union job.

Obama-phones might soon be given out under a SNAP program because Obama's USDA would classify an Apple as food.

There are now 80 federally funded, means-tested welfare programs that cost us $1 trillion annually, up 16-fold over the past five decades. The “safety net” has become a safety hammock.

This brings us to “circuses.” Cronyism is never as stark as a taxpayer-funded stadium deal doled out to rich team owners. From 1991 to 2004, 78 stadium deals cost $85 billion, with taxpayers on the hook for 61 percent of that. Miami voters said, “Oy vey!” when they found out that the Marlins Park baseball stadium deal would cost them $2.4 billion. They wisely voted out two mayors involved.

Pro football began 91 years ago as a privately owned business so 45 men could travel and shower together without people talking. Now it is a government-sanctioned monopoly. The NFL Commissioner got a raise from $11 to $29 million, which should be a mind boggling amount of money to the players, even those players with concussions.

Recently, there has been retribution for homophobic player comments and a push for the first NFL player to come out of the closet. The benefits of more gays in the NFL would be huge, starting with better choreographed end zone celebration dances.

Politicians are calling for the NFL to hire more black coaches, even though two brothers just coached in the Super Bowl.

I presumed that Ray Lewis retired from the NFL to spend more time (allegedly) stabbing his family; he ended up with a plum job on ESPN. With 31 NFL players arrested since the Super Bowl, I thought Court TV would be a better fit for Lewis. That way he could keep up with his NFL buddies. I could see the Oakland Raiders hiring the Johnnie Cochran Law Firm as the team’s defense coordinator.

The NBA and NFL players who are the ringleaders in this “circus” show moral deterioration. Even Miami’s great quarterback, Dan Marino, fathered a kid out of wedlock. If San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s lawyers represented Marino, they would sue the Dolphins for never giving him protection.

There are some good signs. A company that manages for-profit prisons is paying for Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium. This will allow wayward players to see a glimpse of their future and have first downs measured by actual chain gangs. The bid by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation to sponsor a Kansas City stadium was rejected. Questions arose when the venue suddenly grew from 38,000 seats to 80,000 and neither Lance nor A-Rod could explain why.

I don’t have time to get into the “circus” that is reality TV: Snooki, the Kardashians, and the "news" outlets covering all these titillating trials — instead of the news.

Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist, award-winning author and TV/radio commentator. Email Ron@RonaldHart.com or visit www.RonaldHart.com.