In politics, sometimes all it takes is a word from an influential leader to close a deal or make a seemingly unbridgeable gap close. It happened in October 1998 when the late King Hussein of Jordan, who was in the US for chemotherapy treatments at the time, was invited by President Bill Clinton to attend the Wye River talks in the hopes of easing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians. It worked: a peace accord was reached, and at the signing ceremony, King Hussein received a standing ovation.
These days, through the magic of social media, world leaders are more accessible. This has never been more evident than during this lockout, when people (including myself) have tweeted President Barack Obama asking him to help bring hockey back. I’m sure our friends to the north have done their share with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
President Obama has already given his opinion on the issue – twice, in fact – and now Prime Minister Harper has weighed in, telling Quebecois broadcaster TVA that he was saddened by the lockout and that he sympathizes with both the players and the owners. He went on to say that he was hurt to see Canada’s national sport in jeopardy and that having two lockouts in eight years is bad for hockey as a business. These two men are not alone: Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey sent a joint letter to the NHL and NHLPA in September begging them to resolve things in the name of saving jobs and businesses in Newark that will suffer from having no hockey at Prudential Center.
Could the pleadings of Congressional representatives and world leaders have any bearing on negotiations, which have ground to a halt? At this point, two statements from President Obama haven’t changed anyone’s mind, and I doubt that hearing from Prime Minister Harper will do anything. The two sides are entrenched, particularly the league, and it would take more than some public scolding from two important government figures to make either of them budge. Right now, not even federal mediators can crack the code that would unlock the season and bring hockey back to the fans.
Perhaps if Prime Minister Harper pointed out that the Canadian economy would suffer without a season, or if President Obama talked about how small businesses in US hockey cities are taking a terrible hit, that might soften some hardened viewpoints. What if Congressman Darrell Issa, notorious for investigating everything that moves in the Obama White House, could call a hearing as to why US owners are locking out their players? What if fans could plead their case for Bill Clinton to intervene? Maybe that would work, or maybe not.
We can only wish that Obama and Harper’s words alone could make a difference. If there was any way either of them could make things move along, I’m sure they would consider trying it. But it looks as though even channeling the wisdom of King Hussein wouldn’t be enough to end this stalemate.