Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are the Republicans the Yankees or Bad News Bears of American politics?

As Major League Baseball winds down the 2009 regular season, I find myself, an Atlanta Braves fan, nostalgic, even teary-eyed for the second term of the Bush administration.

For that was the last time the Braves made the National League playoffs.

After 14 consecutive trips from 1991-2005 to baseball's post-season by virtue of winning their division -- not once during this streak did the Braves need the wild card birth created in 1994 to advance to the playoffs -- resulting in nine NLCS appearances and five trips to the World Series, the Braves failed to advance in 2006.

And 2007. And 2008. And, now, 2009.

Look at this very carefully and what do you see? Well, one thing is rather obvious: the Atlanta Braves have a much better likelihood of making the playoffs when there is a Democratic administration in power than when Republicans control the White House. The Braves advanced to the NLCS eight consecutive times from 1991-1999, including every year the Clinton administration was in office (with the exception of 1994, when MLB came to halt after failing to workout a labor agreement; naturally, President Obama's first appointee to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, negotiated the settlement between the players and owners that put MLB back to work in 1995. The Braves continued to prosper during the first George W. Bush administration, just as they had during the last two years (1991 and 1992) of the first and only George H.W. Bush administration. But like many Americans, the Braves began to tire of W and his policies, so that by 2006 they no longer had the inspiration -- nor the pitching, hitting or fielding -- to play post-season quality baseball. So rapid has their fall from prosperity been that the Braves have not finished above .500 since 2005. But thanks to a rejuvenated pitching staff (and a division with the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals) that ranks third in the National League and is among the best in all of MLB, the Braves will finish above .500 in 2009. Once again, there is a reason among the 200 or so Braves fans still with the team to have hope for the future. And if Barack Obama is re-elected, the Braves stand an even better chance of returning to the top of the National League East, since we now understand the clear linkage between presidential election outcomes and the Braves' success.

But there could be a real problem in my analysis, based on some the political commentary I've read about Barack Obama's rapidly crumbling presidency, the convergence of millions (or 20,000, take your pick) of angry, "real" Americans on the Mall in Washington to protest the Muslim socialist jihadist policies of our first African-American president, who just happens not only to be a Muslim socialist jihadist, but a Nazi as well, the now nakedly transparent effort by the Obama administration to destroy Medicare by threatening either to (a) withhold government support for Medicare or (b) increase the government's commitment to Medicare or (c) both and his decision to "fix" -- not "repair" but "fix" as in the 1919 World Series -- the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by making it impossible for the United States to prevail, thus promoting the cause of Muslim-Nazi jihadist socialism in the Middle East and back home in places like Paducah, Kentucky and Opelaka, Alabama, where a gun-less, God-deprived people unable to pray in school will be defenseless against this coming assault. In the true spirit of one door opening as another one closes, Alabama and Kentucky produce more high-grade marijuana than any other state in the United States outside of California, so at least there is a support structure in place to help deal with the consequences of having their lives torn apart.

Indeed, according to the narrative rapidly emerging among the Deep Thinkers who hold forth on such entertainment programs as "Meet the Press," "This Week With A Former Administration Official," "Why It's Better to Be Conventionally Wrong Than Unconventionally Right," "Bland Balding White Men And How They Know So Much More Than Everybody Else," and "Serious People Don't Question Authority," and, naturally, Bill Kristol, Obama is falling faster than a pre-teen girl for a Jonas Brother or a nerdy college freshman boy for Jenna Jameson. And as Obama falls, so falls the fortunes of the Democratic party in the House and Senate, where the well-mannered and thoughtful outburst of one Joe Wilson, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, during President Obama's speech last week represented, according to the thrice-divorced, formerly drug addicted, multi-millionaire Everyman Rush Limbaugh, the true feelings of real Americans. And Limbaugh's statement today, after reading a report about a fight between white and black students on a school bus, that "[w]e need segregated buses . . . This is Obama's America, presumably reflects the opinion of "real" Americans on matters of race and equality as well.

Somewhere later today, a conservative commentator will disavow Limbaugh's remarks, claiming that his (or her, but probably his) "problem" with Obama isn't the new found sense of empowerment among African-American teenagers to fight their white classmates on school buses, but the "failure" of Obama to make good on his "bi-partisan" commitment to promote a "post-partisan" agenda. Although there was no real concern during the W years to hold the White House accountable for its promise to unite and not divide America, out-of-power Republicans now insist that losing the 2008 election across the board did not represent a rejection of the Bush administration and the Republican party; rather, it represented a deliberate effort to create a new opposition party to oppose the proposals of the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda in the House and Senate. Just look at the results of the election and you'll see how this argument makes perfect sense.

Barack Obama: 365 electoral votes
John McCain: 173 electoral votes

Popular vote margin: Obama by 9.1 million votes, the sixth largest margin ever and the largest ever by a non-incumbent.
States flipped between 2004 and 2008: (nine, all in favor of Obama).

As usual Bill Kristol had his finger right on the pulse of the American voter, correctly predicting in 2006 that Barack Obama would not a single primary against Hillary Clinton and that John McCain would win "huge" against Obama. Can there be any doubt why Kristol is the Washington Post's go-to-guy to explain why the Democrats cannot and should not prevail on anything?

Back to the standings . . .

Senate: 60 Democrats; 40 Republicans (this includes Arlen Specter's switch). Net gain: 7 seats. In November 2008, the Republicans did not unseat a single Democrat.

House: 257 Democrats; 178 Republicans.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Right now, the best team in MLB by virtue of winning percentage is the New York Yankees, whose winning percentage of .639 puts them four full percentage points ahead of the second best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose winning percentage of .599 puts them in an almost statistical dead-heat with the Boston Red Sox (.597) and the Los Angeles Angels (.593) but comfortably ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies (.583). The distance between .599 and .583 might seem slight, but, at this point in the season, the Dodgers are four games better than the Phillies. That's a lot to make-up with just 16 or so games left in the season. Remember all the people that thought the Obama's lead going into election night was fragile and unstable? If the polling data reflected the population of Ms. Fountain's 3rd grade class race for room president, then, yes, maybe, a single digit lead might be precarious. But were millions of people going to change their minds three days before the election? No.

So, continuing this scientific analysis of baseball and politics, think of Barack Obama as the New York Yankees, the Senate Democrats as the Phillies and the House Democrats, with a 79 seat margin, as the the new Red Sox Nation (or Chavez Ravine, you decide) of congressional politics. Obama won almost 200 electoral votes more than McCain, 9.1 million more votes among all voters and 28 of 22 states. He flipped such Republican strongholds as North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana. And, like the Yankees, he had almost bottomless well of money with which to make his case. Conservatives, who believe that money is speech because how it's spent reflects a person's (or corporation's) opinion, should be genuflecting before Obama rather than insisting that his "failure" to cure the world W made in six months reflects an abject, James Buchanan (or George W. Bush-like) presidential disaster. The Democrats currently rest atop the congressional standings with a winning percentage of .600 in the Senate and .590 in the House. And the record intake of Obama during this presidential election season means, according to the speech-money paradigm, that our current president is the most revered president ever, since more people spent more money to support than any candidate ever.

In Republican-world, that's not the case. The real winners in MLB this season are the following three teams:

1. Washington Nationals (.345)
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (.382)
3. Kansas City Royals (.400)

If Missouri reflects the nation's heartland, and the nation's heartland reflects the opinion of "real" Americans -- as opposed to fake Americans in . . . where else, New York (the Yankees) and Los Angeles (the Dodgers and Angels) -- then the Republicans are the Kansas City Royals of American politics, since the winning percentage of the Republicans is virtually identical to the American League's worst team. The Pirates are either the Green Party or Ralph Nader; the Nats . . . let's see . . . . either the American Communist Party or the American Independence Party (George Wallace in 1968 and 1972). But that's not good news for the Republicans, since the American Communist Party and the Green Party, attracting even fewer Americans to their positions, possess even greater veto power over public policy than they do.

And just where are the Braves? In baseball's forgotten middle-class, good enough to remain competitive but not good enough to enjoy the prosperity of a previous generation of Braves teams.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, I admit that not a bit of this highly technical, sophisticated, robust and serious modeling of how the relationship of campaign outcomes, right-wing political analysis and Bill Kristol to professional baseball can be understood by people who are not professional political scientists. And I also admit that this post is biased towards people like myself who have a Ph.D and aren't afraid to use it. Going into the post-season, let's just hope that Bud Selig, for all his other faults, is a Democrat. If, God forbid, he is a Republican, rather than seeing the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox and Tigers advance to the post-season, you'll get the Nationals, Pirates, Royals, Diamondbacks, Mets, Cleveland and Orioles.

To the victors go the spoils, unless you decide that, because you were not victorious and have no spoils, they don't.

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