ROLL CALL 07/22/08
By Michael Shank

Last week’s 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park, between the Republicans and the Democrats, could not have been more emblematic of the state of American party politics (“GOP Wins Trophy in Nail-Biter,” July 18). That the Republicans won for the eighth straight year, taking 11 of the last 12 games, is not insignificant. Despite this year’s nail-biter, the recent record implies that Republicans know how to do “America” – in this case, baseball, a favorite American pastime – much better than the Democrats.

This is hardly a surprise. Many suspect, and I agree, that President Bush won the presidency twice because he looked far more natural in a pickup truck (another American icon) and cowboy boots (this is how the West was won), and would easily best Al Gore or Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the preferred beer-drinking buddy. The last-ditch attempt by Kerry to look woodsy, by tromping through wetlands in high-water boots with shotgun slung over shoulder, failed to foster the kind of manly affiliation he was looking for. Why? Because Kerry was perceived ultimately as New England elitism in manifest.

Now the same dynamic exists between Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Perceived much more as the wine-drinker, Obama’s bowling embarrassment in Pennsylvania was not unlike Kerry’s shotgun gimmick. To gutter the bowling ball at first flourish, and to finish with a foot flip afterwards, it was clear that Obama was deeply out of sync with this core part of America. McCain, on the other hand, has adopted what Bush does so well: a free-speaking candor, at times callous, that seems remarkably close to beer-induced bar-speak.

Adeptness at hunting, bowling and baseball is not the only difference here. At the Congressional ballgame, the chanting by both parties’ fans was indicative too of their deeply divergent identities. While the Democrats (appropriately enough on the stadium’s left) chanted “Yes we can” (intoning the Obama campaign’s messaging), the Republicans on the right chanted “GOP.” Here was the liberal left launching its idealist fervor while the conservative right was busy institution-building. How apropos of party policy all this fanfare was.

Sitting behind home plate near the libertarians, observing this masquerade, I wondered if anyone else was digging deeper on the implications of baseball policy. Perhaps not, but lest the 48th Congressional game goes to the Republicans again next year, it behooves the Democrats to reflect for a moment on their record, their roster and their rhetoric.

Michael Shank
Government Relations Adviser
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution