Politics is a Funny Game


Umpire_BTo paraphrase something Joe Garagiola once said about baseball, politics is a funny game. It happens that I read, or looked at, Garagiola’s book, Baseball is a Funny Game, when I was eight years old and on my first ever trip to Austin, a trip that included lunch at the Austin Club and an overnight at the Driskill Hotel. My older brother and I spent most of our time playing on the hotel elevators while my father met with the lobbyists for his small trucking company. Years later I discovered that sneaking around the hotel was an adult game in Austin, too.

Politics and baseball are funny games for many of the same reasons. Things go hilariously (or tragically) wrong, as fallible humans sport in public. Case in point. There’s an old story about a guy stealing second base. The catcher’s throw beats him, but the shortstop drops the ball. As the runner slides into the bag, he picks the ball up with his hand. “You’re out!” cries the umpire. “Out?” shouts the runner. “He dropped the ball. Look, it’s in my hand.” “In that case,” the umpire smirked, “you tagged yourself out.” I think that was the precise legal logic of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 in the Bush v. Gore case.

Other commonality: In politics, as in baseball, the umpires are usually blind, a circumstance denied in both spheres. As far as baseball umpires go, there’s no need to elaborate on the obvious. In politics, though, it’s easy to forget that most of the calls are made blindly. At the very least, political umpires are often out of position. They can’t see the play, so they guess.

Earlier this year, the conventional wisdom was that 2010 would be a bad year for Democrats. This judgment was based on air, of course. With health care reform hanging in the balance and an economy just beginning to recover, it looked like voters might hold President Obama responsible for George Bush’s failures. In a traditionally red state like Texas, that blame spelled doom for Democrats.

Now, with Houston Mayor Bill White probably entering the gubernatorial contest against “Old Hat and No Cattle” Rick Perry, things are looking better. Can the umpires see it? I dunno.

They manage, somehow, to ignore six years of Democratic success and infrastructure building. Highly organized coordinated campaigns in Dallas in 2006 and then in Houston in 2008 have led to Democratic comebacks in those metropolitan areas. Few have noticed the discipline and focus that led to these victories. One reason for this is that so many people and organizations deserve credit. The cult of personality wants a Mickey Mantle. But politics is a team sport. In this case, credit must be given to Annie’s List, the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Democratic Party, the Texas Progress Council. The Texas Values In Action committee gets a medal. A state full of insightful, hard-charging progressive bloggers. A new generation of candidates. Experienced consultants working with newcomers to broaden the talent pool.

Often we hear the umpires say, “Texas just isn’t ready.” Such a judgment assumes there’s some kind of mystical pendulum that hasn’t fully swung the Democrats’ way. There is no pendulum. We make our future. We win our games. Many who say this know it’s true in business. They don’t sit in their offices waiting for a new market. They go establish a new market. They make it happen. Same in politics.

When Bill White launches his gubernatorial campaign he will be the beneficiary of behind-the-scenes organizing that’s never existed before in Texas. Does this guarantee victory? Of course not. But it is one of those “intangibles” they talk about so often in baseball. Remember the Amazing Mets of ’69? The World Series Champs had an intangible at every position.

Politics is a funny game, and it will still be funny after the umpires borrow some glasses and base their calls on the facts at hand. No outcome is ever certain. There will be drama, and the unexpected will happen more often than not.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as MoveOn.org. In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

3 thoughts on “Politics is a Funny Game”

  1. To take the 1969 Mets analogy a step further…how nice would it be if Texas D’s had a young Nolan Ryan equivalent in the rotation?

    Back then I was a little league 3rd baseman and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles was my idol. That was a tough WS to experience.

  2. For developing yourself best in the community you must realize and understand the importance of informal and formal education as well because without having formal and informal education you cannot live happily and peacefully in this modern, advanced and competitive world and society easily with other society members.

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