To 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.