"What a terrible thing power and privilege can be. Those who live with it come to think of themselves as entitled, and in some sense specially gifted with insight. That's when the trouble begins and the corruption sets in. The thing is, most of us in some way have power and privilege in our own spheres. It is in our nature to lie to ourselves--and when we are entrusted with the care of great institutions (the presidency, the church, banks), the cost of our blindness and hubris can be devastating."
Dreher, in turn, is pivoting off an op-ed piece by conservative Washington Post writer Peggy Noonan (a former Bush speechwriter who should know plenty about power, privilege, and hubris) on the Catholic church's current sexual abuse scandal. But Dreher's paragraph succinctly describes one of Thoroughbred racing's biggest problems. The people in charge are gifted with power and privilege and their blindness and hubris has been pretty devastating over the years.
It began, perhaps, with the late George Widener and his Jockey Club/NYRA (pretty much the same organization at the time) cohorts in the 1960s when Off Track Betting legislation loomed in New York. A product of Victorian paternalism, Widener and his peers believed that the unwashed masses should not be tempted to lose their rent money by being able to bet at the corner drugstore, so they adamantly opposed OTB and refused opportunities to participate and to control the final product.
Most of New York racing's current problems stem from, if not that decision, then certainly that attitude from racing's stewards. They think they know better than we do.
In the 1990s when the movers and shakers managed to co-opt Fred Pope's original, brilliant concept of the National Racing Association and turned it into the NTRA, I was still hopeful that it might work....up until the moment when the philosophical descendants of George Widener killed the inaugural "Go Baby Go" commercial, reportedly because they thought actress Lori Petty looked like a lesbian. That made it obvious that nothing had changed. It didn't matter that audience tests showed that the commercial worked, that it appealed to the audience for which it was designed. Lori Petty's tomboy appearance offended those with power and privilege, and that was more important.
The problem presented by the blindness and hubris of privilege is ultimately more serious for Thoroughbred racing than it is for the church, the nation, or the financial system. If the church, the politicians, and bankers do not mend past errors and set more realistic courses, they lose (at least in theory, though one never knows in the current toxic political climate) their followers, their jobs, their money--which is to say their power and their privilege. If Thoroughbred racing's powers that be continue their long, painful stumble toward oblivion, they may kill the sport they love, but they will still have their money, their power, their privilege in every other sphere of their lives. They will regret the loss, but you can be sure they will not think it was their fault.
Once upon a time the fact that Thoroughbred racing was run as a rich man's hobby was seen as an advantage. That meant that their motives were pure and they made decisions for the good of the sport (of course it was never really that simple and pure, but that was the theory and the sport thrived that way for 300 years).
That era ended around the time that George Widener and friends said no to OTB, but the oligarchy that runs Thoroughbred racing didn't notice for the next 30 years. When they did, when Fred Pope produced his revolutionary proposal, their response was not dissimilar to the response of the Catholic church to the sex abuse scandal--denial followed by self-serving attempts at moderate changes while maintaining power and privilege.
It hasn't worked for the Catholic church, and it hasn't worked for Thoroughbred racing.