Monday, October 31, 2016

There’s always next year - but not for us

As I write this, the world of baseball is preparing for a massive celebration in one Midwestern city as another will be mired in misery for at least another year. Candidates across the United States are facing a similar fate — either they win or they lose on November 8th and the day will either go down in their personal histories as a good day or a bad one. In many races the voters are ambivalent about who they elect, particularly in local races where they may be choosing between neighbors or long-time acquaintances in a small town.

In the race for President, feelings are not as friendly and there is no lack of passion among the supporters of the two candidates. This race has gone beyond the most unrealistic movie script that could have been written and now has hit upon every -ism and many words not okay to print. Stories on the campaign include charges of treason, espionage, infidelity, voter fraud and money laundering. At this point, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction and I have to believe that many voters are so disgusted that they are committed to sitting out this election. It’s a sad state of affairs when both candidates have a more than 50% unfavorable rating. That’s right - as of this writing, 59% of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump and 53.4% had an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.

If voters are so inclined, they can also write in a candidate for President — or any office. It’s fun to go back and look at what candidates are written in each year. There are always those who lost in the primary and we can expect many to write in Bernie Sanders and Mitt Romney this year. Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse are perennial vote getters along with None of the Above. I think Tom Brady might be a good choice this year.

If it’s any consolation, there are some interesting local races and ballot initiatives in Rhode Island, so there’s still a reason to show up. I have been impressed with the number of local races that are contested and with the spirited — but good-natured — debate that has ensued. I will add a shameless plug for the ethics reform campaign I’ve been working on and ask people to approve question 2. It gives the Ethics Commission oversight of the General Assembly and allows it to investigate and prosecute violations of the Code of Ethics. If ever there was an issue that we can all agree on, I think it’s this one: Rhode Island deserves a more ethical government. I am hoping it can win with at least 75%.

For baseball teams, players and their fans, there’s always next year. Next year brings another 162 games of opportunity and the chance to win it all. It will be no solace for the fans of the Indians or the Cubs but there is at least the hope for redemption. No such luck for the American electorate. Barring a resignation or impeachment, we’ve got four long years of acrimony, anxiety and anger until we have a chance to make a change in the White House. Let’s make the best of it.

Don’t forget to vote!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reversing another curse

Even though there’s no baseball being played in New England right now, I have been glued to the playoffs and will be thrilled to watch an Indians-Cubs World Series. I’m sure I am not the only Red Sox fan to be a little excited to see what I think of as a Theo-Tito-Lester-Lackey-Coco-Ross reunion, bringing together players and managers who were part of our three World Series wins. I’ll be rooting for the Cubs because I still have phantom pains from being a pre-2004 Sox fan and am hoping that Chicago can enjoy the same catharsis that spread across New England twelve years ago.

I’m also hoping that having a new President-elect in less than two weeks will also give us the mental cleansing need after being subjected to the most negative and brutal campaign in modern times. This has been an exceptionally bad campaign and I am hoping that it is the exception and doesn’t become the kind of campaign that Americans expect. It would be hard to find two worse candidates or ones with more mud to toss at each other.

For the winner and his or her followers, the real work will begin when the votes are finally counted.  No matter who wins this campaign is destined to end with some very angry voters on the losing side and no clear mandate for governing. It’s probably hard for them to believe, but governing is much harder than campaigning.  Governing while trying to win a second term is even more difficult as campaign promises often collide with the politics of Capitol Hill or what can conceivably be accomplished in a four-year term. While most readers will groan at the thought that the new President is thinking about a second term already, I can guarantee that re-election is at the top of the first term agenda. And governing effectively when close to half the electorate voted against you and thinks you’re unfit for office? Nearly impossible.

For the loser and his or her followers, I hope that they recover quickly. Few disappointments are as stinging as being rejected by the electorate and all the “what ifs” and “you shouldas” roll in every day. If we have any hope of moving forward and away from the unpleasantness of this campaign, we will need some leadership from the loser. He or she will need to set an example for his or her followers, be gracious in defeat and then be quiet for a while. The country does not need — and certainly voters do not want — to have a heckler mocking the new President’s every move.

What I like about baseball is that no matter how hard-fought the games are, there’s always some grace in losing because you were beaten fair and square. The curse of this campaign cycle is that there’s been nothing fair about the process on either side and it yielded two candidates with very little common ground and even less appeal. It’s going to take some time to bounce back, but there’s always hope. After all, we’ve got a Cubs-Indians World Series, making it a very special year.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Don’t blame the locker room

It’s been more than a week since the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs by getting swept by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS and I’ll admit that I am still recovering. It was depressing to see David Ortiz retire without a final World Series send off, but with three huge World Series rings on our fingers because of his awesomeness, it’s hard to be sad for too long.  Unlike so many other baseball fans, we’ve seen plenty of champagne-soaked locker rooms and have lots of winning moments to remember.

I am having a harder time trying to process some of the “locker room” talk that seems to have infected this year’s presidential campaign. I have a high tolerance for bad language and have been known to use it myself at times, but this latest chapter in “how low can we go” has brought us to a new sad spot. Just as the Monica Lewinsky scandal introduced new words to water cooler chatter, Donald Trump’s bragging about being to assault women as he sees fit has caused Republicans at every level to disavow his comments and has caused a wave of un-endorsements as well.

I don’t pretend to know what goes on in men’s locker rooms, but considering that jokes about wives, mothers, sisters and girlfriends have often lead to locker room fights, I have to believe that Donald Trump’s bravado might get him a punch in the face in a real locker room. Also, I do not know any men (thankfully) who would publicly brag about assaulting a women, so I think we need to reject the excuse this this was locker room talk altogether and just call it what it is: offensive, perverse and perhaps even the last straw for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. When pollsters look back on the 2016 presidential campaign, it will probably be considered an outlier because Hillary Clinton will likely win with a higher unfavorable rating than any President before. Likability matters in politics and the “who would you rather have a beer with” question can be a good indicator of who wins the race. Let’s face it, no one wants to have a beer with a pervert.

With this interminable campaign coming to a close in a matter of days, the revelations of the last few weeks have left many voters without a candidate to support. I share your sadness and disgust and simply say… Go Cubs!

Monday, October 3, 2016

We need more Papi in politics

I get emotional about the Red Sox. I curse when they lose and jump up and down they win, so it was for the best that I was alone at home when Sunday’s pregame featured the culmination of David Ortiz’s year-long retirement celebration. With a lump in my throat and tears on my cheeks I was glued to the screen and thinking about how lucky I am to have been a Sox fan in his time. He carried his teams to three World Series wins — a bounty that no pre-2004 fan could have thought to imagine.  But more importantly, he inspired us to want to be like him: relentless, resilient and kind. With that huge smile and giant swagger he taught us to push away doubt and to think that something good could happen if we could believe in ourselves. And when terror struck, he was the leader who embodied Boston Strong and helped the city bounce back. His departure leaves a huge hole in the Red Sox lineup and reminded me that we have very few inspirational leaders in our country right now, particularly in the race for President.

There are nearly 319 million people in the United States and the two people who have been nominated by the major political parties to be president are probably the two worst candidates in U.S. history. This campaign has turned into a "he said she said" about non-issues and both candidates have wasted time and effort name-calling, making accusations and labeling the other unfit and dishonest. The din of the discord is so loud that even careful observers have lost track of the insults being volleyed back and forth. It's disheartening to think that we've been left with these choices and that the next four years will be long ones if only because nearly half the country will be upset and the outcome of the election.

All is not lost. Regardless of who gets more electoral votes on November 8th, I know two things to be true: first, the outcome of this race will not derail our democracy. After 240 years, the Republic will survive 48 months of an unpopular president. Second, the founding fathers saw 2016 coming and made the President of the United States a relatively weak executive. Because Congress holds the purse strings, a President can only do so much without the cooperation of Congress. Even Supreme Court nominees need approval from 60 members of the Senate, ensuring that a party-line vote is not possible by either party. Neither one of these candidates can — or will — ruin this country as president, but the damage done to this electorate by this divisive campaign will last for a long time.

From beginning to end, this campaign has lowered our standards in what we want in a president. Because the major party candidates are so badly flawed, we have dropped our standards to meet what they are giving us in terms of temperament, integrity, character and judgment. Because each one is still working so hard to motivate their own base of supporters, neither is working to appeal to anyone outside of their own camp. Even worse, strong supporters are using the opponent’s negatives to get votes. If it’s not, “you have to vote for him, she’s a liar,” it’s “you have to vote for her, he’s a pig.” Ack.

It’s too late for 2016, but if we have any hope of pulling American politics out of the gutter, we need some better prospects and we must have higher expectations for our candidates. It might be too much to hope for a David Ortiz-type to rise up politics and bring us back from the abyss, but Big Papi did it in 2004, so it can’t hurt to believe.