Sunday, August 20, 2017

Do The Democrats Belong In The Major Leagues?

I believe there is very little in life that cannot be illuminated by a reference to baseball, and if not baseball, then basketball.

Take our political situation. Our team is the Democrats. We can love them, we can hate them, we can hold grudges – my grudge against Hillary and the other Clintons hasn't shown signs of weakening, and I voted for them but I think no matter the opposition I would vote against $50 millionairess Chelsea, since even home team allegiance has limits – we can deplore their ineptitude, but they are our team. We can admire players on the other team, from time to time, but the admiration always has to be somewhat grudging, because they are the opposition. Mantle was great, but not ours. Ted Williams – well, there's the exception, especially because he was always so beleaguered, he was called back to service for the Korean War for God's sake, and he never won it all.

But anyway, when you are losing badly, the dreaded word “rebuilding” comes up from the depths. Can anyone be more in the depths than the Dems? Statehouses, state legislatures, House, Senate, Presidency, and the stolen Supreme Court? All gone, ladies and gentlemen, all gone. How can you not think, “rebuilding time!”

How did we get here? I indict Hillary and the Clintons, of course, that's an easy call. Ineptitude, here is your avatar, losing an unlosable election by playing – OK, switching sports – a prevent defense, for God's sake. We all know by now that a prevent defense prevents winning. I'm still getting posts on Facebook of Hillary warning against Trump. Yes, she was right, of course she was right. But it was still a stupid thing to do. Your mean teacher warning you – that's sure a winner. Just as it was stupid for Hillary and Bill, with their famous long memories and penchants for revenge, to squash any young pretenders of any possible support, so the only challenge came from Bernie. Yes, he did a great job, but come on, can you think that one-track Bernie, right as he may be on that single track, is the future of the franchise? A great free agent from the land of the Independent, admirable, an amazing season, it would be great to see him do something again, but the future? Maybe a guide, but not the strong shoulders to lift everyone up, not a Mike Trout to build around. But he was all that was left.

Strong leaders build strong teams. They go out and recruit the Kevin Durant and pledge to play together and love one another. They don't protect themselves by bringing on dwarfs like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Yes, Hillary looked like the charming one in comparison to ol' Debbie, but come on, man.

And much as we love and admire BHO – I don't think that set of initials is going to stick as well as, say, KD (love KD!) – he didn't build a strong legacy. He didn't educate the country, he didn't as they say “change the conversation,” he didn't find the great leaders and promote them. He stuck us with Hillary, sorry to say. He doesn't seem to be gregarious, he hung out with young staff guys and his golf crowd, so how could he find out who was a hot comer? He couldn't even remember Pete Buttigieg's name when asked for the possible rising stars, calling him “the Mayor of South Bend, that guy” – Bill Clinton would know his name and his boyfriend's name, how to seduce him politically, what his weakness was, and would have found him a role and made sure he wasn't threatening – but that was his weakness, not strengthening people.

Obama left us with very little. Maybe it's not his fault, but I think it really is. Great guy with many weaknesses, and one of them was not making use of his great strength of expression. Where were the great speeches building a program legacy? Where were his close allies ready to take charge? Maybe he'll come through now, maybe. He's so smart and he can really learn.

OK, so we're rebuilding. When teams rebuild, they look to their farm system, and they trade for the future. Well, trading's not something to rely on in politics, but the farm system, that's where you have to look, and you have to recognize when the old team is lagging. Nancy and Steny might still have knowledge and strength, but they're losing, so time to pack up. Sorry. Nice job.

To find the new stars, there's no way to tell who can do it without putting them in the batter's box. This is the time, just like when the current season is gone, put the young guys in and see who can throw strikes for outs and who can hit major league pitching. With the midterms lurking, it's time not only to see what candidates can run well in the districts, but higher up in the order, who can go around to the districts and give speeches for those guys and gals, who can make the good connections on a personal level, who can strike the right notes, hit the singles and doubles all across the country and head for the middle of next year's lineup. It's tryout time.

Trump is throwing a fastball right across the middle, and his team can't get rid of him with his unbreakable contract. Now, who on our Dem team can hit those pitches out of the park? Somebody should be able. We're looking around for them. We see them coming through MSNBC, and then we'll see who can go around to the various ballparks and prove they belong in the show.

The message? They'll have to form the message. We know the outline; the stars will have to fill in the blanks and express it their way. The ownership can't do it – “A Better Deal” proves that point. We'll see how the show gets formed on the road, to mix show biz into the analogy. You find the stars, and then you field the team around them. Politics should be a team sport.

There is no guarantee that the team will assemble itself into a winner, of course. There is an opposing team, and they have journeymen masquerading as stars, I'd say – but they are familiar by now and well on their way to winnowing down to their strongest. And the old line Dems could still hold sway. I'm from Philadelphia, and any fan from Philly knows how to suffer. I remember Connie Mack. In those pre-free agency days Mack not only managed the A's, he was the owner, so he couldn't be fired. Decades of frustration were the product of stagnation. What did he care? The A's were “his team.”

Ownership is key to winning; look how the derelict Warriors transformed themselves when the Milwaukee group bought them and hired Don Nelson in the 80's, and how the story repeated itself in spades these last five years to produce one of the finest teams ever. Not only ownership willing to spend, but ownership willing to bring in Jerry West and to listen to him, to bring in Bob Myers and let him operate, ownership willing to play the true ownership role.

Ownership in politics has changed from the years of Bob Strauss and the backroom boys. I'm not sure how it works now. But in the end, either the old Dems will keep holding sway, or a new group of owners will emerge to identify the stars and produce an organization that actually functions, unlike the DNC who couldn't even respond when they found they were being hacked. Seriously, they couldn't. And they couldn't bring out the voters who would make a difference in Milwaukee, in Philly, in Michigan. What a horrible organization. (I wish they would stop calling our home for donations, Jesus, enough already! We're not giving you a cent! Or at least I'm not; I can't speak for Ann. She's probably more level-headed than I am.) But maybe Bernie and Obama can make peace and with a few others – please keep Hillary out! – see which of the youngsters is hitting and give them the support they need.

So, that's the deal now. Who can find the right balance of decrying the Republicans and offering a vision of hope and progress that makes sense, who can go to the ballparks across the country and keep getting hits? And when the stars emerge, as they will, can there be an ownership to guide them into a team that brings all the strengths together?

Remember, Cornelius McGillicuddy's A's eventually moved to Oakland with a different owner and produced some of the finest teams in history. They actually rebuilt under new ownership, and the result was, as they say, history. I can't say that I still don't hold a grudge against Connie Mack, and against Hillary, but there's nothing like winning to take the edge off.

I'm ready for the new season. More than ready. But if they mess it up again, then you finally have to say, we need a new team to be able to compete in the Majors. I'm hopeful it doesn't come to that.

Budd Shenkin

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