Why It's Stupid To Complain About US Olympic Uniforms Made In China

By now you’ve probably read an article by or seen an interview with a braindead American “patriot” who is furious with Ralph Lauren because the clothing company foolishly turned to China for the manufacturing of the uniforms of the U.S. Olympic team. No matter that the money for those uniforms doesn’t come from the government but from the U.S. Olympic team, which is not exactly swimming in cash and needs to watch costs. It also doesn’t seem to matter that the U.S. doesn’t really have a textile industry any more, unless you count clothing design, marketing and sales.

Senator Harry Reid, who really needs to relax with a cold beer (his Mormonism notwithstanding), wins the stupid prize for this brouhaha:

I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.

Nice. Not only was that throwaway line completely unrealistic for a variety of reasons, but he managed to conjure up some nasty historical images. For me, I got a combination of Fahrenheit 451, Kristallnacht, and the witch scene from The Holy Grail. That’s no mean feat. Congrats, senator.

On the other hand, I’m with Senator Reid in terms of the uniform design. They look like the Special Forces invaded Andover or Choate, which I think was an early Pat Conroy work, if I’m not mistaken. The creepy factor is way too high.

To be honest, I’m a bit late on this story. The “scandal” already “broke” days ago, with the media going through the paces of interviewing the usual “patriots” and China bashers — sorry for all the sneer quotes, but every one is justifiable — and then getting reax from Mitt Romney. As an aside, this is one time when Romney’s opinion is actually worthwhile, given his work with the Salt Lake City Olympics back in the day.

Ralph Lauren was hammered, it backpedaled, then announced that although it was too late this time to make a change, it would go with a U.S. supplier for the 2014 games. This seems to have placated the America First crowd.

The U.S. Olympic team has been trying to stay out of the verbal fray, although I have a feeling they would love to say something along the following lines: “Senator Reid et al, keep your bullshit to yourself unless you’d like to sponsor a bill that uses public funds to pay for our costs, the way that many other countries do it. Until that time, shut your pie hole.”

Harry Reid and the other Congressional outpatients, most of which I expect also loved the idea of Freedom Fries back in 2003, can’t help themselves. Politicians during an election season are like female cats that haven’t been fixed: mewling constantly and backing up into anything they think may give them some momentary satisfaction.

But why did these boneheads think that this issue would give them traction? Let us count the ways:

1. High unemployment.

2. Slow economic growth.

3. Suspicion of globalization.

4. Xenophobia.

5. Conflation of Olympics issues with patriotism.

6. China.

And of course it’s that last one that really put this one over the top for folks like Harry Reid. If the uniforms were made in Bangladesh or Mexico, meh. But China? Well, we know what goes on over there. Thanks to intrepid “journalists” like Mike Daisey, Americans have a mental image of huge Chinese factoryopolises replete with razor wire, guard towers, gun-toting private security, underage labour and plantation-style housing.

Those uniforms weren’t just made outside of the U.S., therefore, they were metaphorically dipped in the blood of 13-year-old migrant laborers from rural Sichuan working in a Dickensian steampunk nightmare world where they toiled 26 hours a day chained to Lancashire Looms, stopping only to give handjobs to their depraved, priapic shift supervisors in exchange for a crust of weevil-ridden bread.

Hey, if I’m looking for a bogeyman I can use to burnish my status as a patriot while remaining true to my populist base, what could be better than that?

I’ll leave you with the usual voice of reason on trade issues, Dan Ikenson, whose take on this story, “Bonfire of the Inanities,” is a great read. His conclusion is better than anything I could write:

If you are still not convinced that our policymakers’ objections are inane, consider this: As our U.S. athletes march around the track at London’s Olympic stadium wearing their Chinese-made uniforms and waving their Chinese-made American flags, the Chinese athletes will have arrived in London by U.S.-made aircraft, been trained on U.S.-designed and -engineered equipment, wearing U.S.-designed and -engineered footwear, having perfected their skills using U.S.-created technology.

Our economic relationship with China, characterised by transnational supply chains and disaggregated production sharing, is more collaborative than competitive. The real competition will be happening in the gyms, pools, and on the fields. Let the games begin.

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