Baseball Patience in Politics

“And I have a feeling that it [the bin Laden tape] could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.” — Walter Cronkite on Larry King Live, October 29, 2004.

Bill Moyers: …I think if Kerry were to win this in a — in a tight race, I think there would be an effort to mount a coup, quite frankly. I mean just like…
Bill Moyers: I — I mean that the — the right wing is not going to accept it.
Joe Klein: Except for the fact that they don’t control – they don’t control the military, they don’t control the intelligence community. What they control is Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and, you know, one side of the table on Crossfire.
— Exchange on the Charlie Rose Show, November 2, 2004.

“But the big problem the country now has, which is going to produce a serious discussion of secession over the next 20 years, is that the segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don’t pay for the federal government… Ninety percent of the red states are welfare client states of the federal government.” — Lawrence O’Donnell on the McLaughlin Group, November 5, 2004.

Despite a thrilling World Series where the Boston Red Sox managed to become the champions of baseball after an 86-year hiatus, baseball has garnered a decreasing share of the national attention.  Though attendance has grown steadily over the years, there is now so much more competition for spectator and fan devotion.  Not only are football and baseball at both the collegiate and professional levels popular, but NASCAR racing draws more fans each year than professional baseball, football, and basketball combined.  With all due respect to these other diversions, it is a shame that the ethos of baseball has receded in the national psyche.  The loss has made it more difficult the pass on the civic virtues necessary in a democratic society based on liberty constrained by personal discipline.

In baseball, even the best teams loose a third of their games, while the worst teams win a third.  As the baseball player, manager, and philosopher, Casey Stengel observed, “…that’s baseball.  Rags to riches one day and riches to rags the next.”  Baseball teaches a patience that would be salutary if it returned to American politics — a patience to think of the long-term, for there will be many wins and losses on the way.  In a power-balanced republic like the United States that oscillates fairly regularly between moderately Conservative and Liberal parties, there is little reason to be excessively morose and down-heartened at an election loss. There is, therefore, little reason for angry the recriminations and vitriol that seems to have spewed from supposedly responsible people on the Left after loosing the recent presidential election.  Sure, Democrats seems to have lost a little footing, but their political ailments are not terminal.  It is a time for regrouping, re-examination, and retrenchment.  It ought not to be an excuse to lash indiscriminately out in uncontrolled fury.

Examples of this frenzied behavior include remarkable assertions by ostensibly responsible spokesmen on the Left.  PBS’s Bill Moyers seems to believe that a coup by the Right was a serious possibility and Walter Cronkite, at one time perhaps the most trusted man in America, irresponsibly suggested that Presidential political advisor Karl Rove may be conspiring with terrorist Osama bin Laden to influence US elections. If perhaps these people had a little more baseball-like political patience and maturity, they would be less likely to explode like marauding football linebacker irrationally into the breach.

Perhaps the most disappointing example of the loss of all proportion is the tongue-in-cheek, but perhaps purposely divisive, suggestion that there are two radically different “red” and “blue” Americas. These colors correspond to the conventional coloring of states by their electoral votes for president. The Democrats seems to have a lock on the northeast and the west coasts, while Republicans control much of Middle America.  The suggestion is further made that perhaps these two Americas should go their separate ways.  Apparently, some in the blue states are so angry they want to take their ball and leave.

Now it is one thing to note differences among regions of the country and quite another to grumble like Lawrence O’Donnell that the “red” states are somehow wrongly dictating to the “blue” states, who O’Donnell claims, are disproportionately paying federal taxes.  The “red” states appear, in O’Donnell’s view, to be the pushy freeloaders. O’Donnell claims, “…the federal government is now being governed by the people who don’t pay for the federal government.”

It is impossible to believe that even O’Donnell really accepts the implications of the line of reasoning he is so casually and thoughtlessly pursuing.  It is not the blue states, but rather the affluent in both red and blue states who pay a disproportionate share of federal taxes.  Is O’Donnell really trying to make the ethical case that in a democratic society those that contribute less financially ought to have less say in the election outcomes?  Should the rich be given more votes, since they pay more taxes?  This latter possibility would not bode well for Democrats.   According to the much maligned exit polls (now fully tabulated), Bush won a majority of votes from people having incomes over $50,000 per year, and almost half (49%) of voters with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 voted for Bush.  It is only among people with incomes below $30,000 that Kerry won a clear majority.

Do those who are a drain on the federal treasury deserve less of a vote?  Should the retired on social security or the poor claiming some federal assistance be less enfranchised by virtue of the fact that at the moment they may be received more benefits than the taxes they pay?  Should families with school age children who consume government education dollars be give less of a vote than childless couples who are subsidizing neighboring families?

O’Donnell would reject these notions and that is what makes his exacerbation of divisions between red and blue states so reckless.  O’Donnell really knows better, but appears to be allowing his political disappointment to triumph over his reason.

It would be pleasant to indulge ourselves in the amiable view that the angry response to Bush’s election is just the temporary cry of the deeply wounded Left, and that this wound will soon heal or at least scar over and cease oozing ugly rhetoric.  Instead, it may be the case that the Left feels itself so out of touch with the rest of society that it has lost all hope of an electoral victories in the future.  Their current over reaction to the election and their willingness to insult the intelligence and motivations of the voters they may wish to solicit a few years hence may go a long way insuring that this assessment by the Left becomes true.

The Boston Red Sox waited through 86 agonizing years to finally win a World Series.  Democrats have only to wait four more years for an opportunity for a possible presidential victory.  Those on the Left will need to remember that there is always be another election season and the sooner they use the off season to re-tool their political teams rather than whining about the past, the sooner they will achieve electoral success.

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