Reality check

Friday, September 14, 2007

“With the first overall pick of the 2007 Draft, the Oakland Raiders select Barack Obama.”

Hold on. Something’s wrong there. I know what you’re thinking. They should have taken Hillary Clinton. She’s coming off an unprecedented year of legislative production, a LaDainian Tomlinson if you will. Barack? Sure, he’s projected to have a big year in terms of speeches and voting attendance, but rookies are too risky for a first overall pick.

Sound familiar? Absolutely not … unless you’ve played Fantasy Congress before. Developed in 2006 by Andrew Lee, a student at Claremont McKenna College in California, the game transports the fantasy format from sports such as football and baseball into the real political world.

Those familiar with other fantasy sports will be impressed by how smoothly Fantasy Congress makes the transition. There’s still a draft day, but instead of runningbacks, quarterbacks, and wideouts, players compete over senators and state representatives. In place of trying to earn stolen bases, runs and RBI, your team has six categories where your members of congress do battle: legislative success, voting attendance, speeches, noteworthy local news, noteworthy national news and maverick score (a.k.a.: points earned when your guy breaks rank with his party in a vote).

But just like fantasy baseball, you need a well-rounded team in order to do well in all categories. Adam Dunn gets you home runs and RBI, but he kills your batting average and does nothing for your stolen bases. Similarly, Tom DeLay may make plenty of local and national news, but he’s murder for your legislative success.

Like any fantasy sport, you have a primary roster and a bench, and you can substitute different

members of Congress on your team for different days if you think they’re going to perform better. Not only that, you can pick up free-agent congressmen and trade members with other teams, though ironically it’s the only fantasy sport I know of that doesn’t have a trade veto system.

The key to the game is the same with any other fantasy sport: try to find undervalued players and make sure your team stays healthy (unimpeached).

In the game’s first season, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the biggest sleeper in the draft – he surpassed all other congressmen in maverick score while remaining solid in every other category. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) on the other hand, is the biggest bust of the year after his airport sex sting.

After playing the game for a week or so, it’s almost scary how well the American political system works as a fantasy sport. You’ll find yourself checking the House of Congress Web site, looking at the voting agenda like some arcane box score. You may even end up watching C-SPAN at 2 a.m., yelling at the screen and rooting for the filibuster that will put you ahead in the standings.

But you can’t help but wonder if something’s wrong when our legislative branch, one of the cornerstones of our nation’s persistence, contains the same gamesmanship and win-at-all costs mentality as a sport played for mass entertainment.

But maybe it’s not so much that our real government resembles our fake sports as much as it is that our fantasy games reflect reality better than we think.

As the motto on Fantasy Congress’ official Web site states, “No matter, win or lose, everyone gets the privilege of civic participation and a deeper understanding of Congress.” For real.

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