Fifty years ago this week, the people who present baseball to a grateful nation did an odd thing: The American League announced that the Washington Senators would move to Minneapolis-St. Paul, but that the league would add two new teams: one of which to be called the Washington Senators.
This struck more than just a newly addicted eight year old as a bit confusing. If the American League wanted to expand to Minnesota (and, as it happened, Los Angeles) why not just create two new teams in those places. Why move the Senators to Minnesota and create a new team with the same name as that of the one which was moving?
The answer, as it is, sadly, for so many things, was race and the reason the elaborate shell game was required was so that we could avoid acknowledging the obvious.
History and adulthood taught us that the long time owners of the original Senators, the Griffith family, had, by 1960, noticed that the city was becoming black outside the pockets where government operated and the people who feasted upon it lived. This, the Griffith family concluded, was not a recipe for success and, as long time members of the league, they had the ability to convince their fellow owners that they should be allowed to make their money elsewhere.
Baseball, eager to maintain its antitrust exemption and a teeny bit concerned about the image of their completely abandoning the nation’s capitol, decided that they might just distract enough people if they put another team there. The whole thing was so hastily slapped together that the team they put in Los Angeles so the league would have the necessary even number of teams had no place to play in other than a minor league park they bought from the Chicago Cubs.
The trick worked in large measure. When, in 1965 the original Senators, as the Minnesota Twins celebrated their first American League pennant since 1933, the expansion team using the abandoned name lost 92 games and finished in eighth place. Its sorry history included one dishonest owner sneaking out of town to rename the team the Texas Rangers, and another creep named George W. Bush serving as its president and pushing baseball into a crippling strike. They finally won the pennant this year and, at this writing, have lost their first two World Series games.
This somewhat lengthy prologue is meant as a bulky metaphor for what this disgusting political campaign has told us: we still are not allowed to talk about race and race matters above everything else. As discussed here last week, we can pretend that the voters are sending a message to Congress, that they are unhappy with the “drift” or the “direction” of the country, that they don’t like “Obamacare,” the bailouts, the level of unemployment, the deficit (ha) and so on, but every time someone says that, their gut knows better: nobody thinks this state we are in is the President’s fault, or that of the leaders of the Democrats in Congress. These are the things people point to so as to justify a vote against the “foreign” president: the one whose father was black.
As just a new for instance, there is this from an interview Rachel Maddow conducted with some Alaska voters who support Joe Miller, but, more importantly, are against Sen Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She voted to confirm Eric Holder.
MADDOW: Why are you against that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he‘s the most anti-gun attorney general this country has ever had.
MADDOW: What‘s he done against guns?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, at this point, it‘s what hasn‘t he done
against guns? Let‘s ask that question. Let‘s look at his voting record
beforehand. I‘m sure you guys –
MADDOW: Eric Holder wasn‘t an elected official.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I‘m asking is look at what his record is with
Obama then. Look at what he‘s –
MADDOW: What‘s he done on guns that you‘re upset about, though?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, I don‘t know enough about him to answer that truthfully right now.
MADDOW: Can I just ask why you‘re upset about Eric Holder?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because he‘s anti-gun.
MADDOW: What has he done that‘s anti-gun?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t know have the facts, but I know that he is anti-gun.
What Ever, as the kids say. Just say anything other than that the vote for President Obama was justified when the aforesaid President Bush was in office, but no longer. If voting for someone with a black father (and a black wife) was justifiable after the eight years of President Bush, with his party controlling both houses of Congress for most of that time, it is apparently not anymore to large numbers of people.
And, as baseball’s adventure in D.C. shows, ignoring this motivation, coming up with any other reasons to explain the national obsession with race, remains firmly in place. So, in the face of claims that the President should not be allowed to talk to school children lest he “indoctrinate” them, or the first outrage expressed by national media about a possible intelligence failure that might have led to a terrorist act on Christmas Day, we talk instead about an unsettled electorate, angry at “incumbents.”
Time after time, as we approached elections or other significant political events the Bush Administration would try to remind voters why they ought to stick with Them, by suddenly announcing arrests in national security cases, or raising new concerns about impending attacks. Questions about the timing of those attacks were either met with veiled suggestions that the questioner sympathized with terrorists or answered by events disclosed well after the electoral or political significance of the event had passed.
Yesterday, after explosives apparently intended for the United States were found and the discovery announced shortly thereafter, a reporter finally decided to put the question to a White House press secretary:
Q Yes, I was just going to ask you, how do you respond to — there’s sure to be accusations that this is all happening a couple days before an election, used to sway the election towards Democrats. How do you respond to that?
MR. GIBBS: I think — John briefed the President at 10:35 p.m. last night off of very credible terror information. And after — I think that’s largely put to rest any speculation that may be out there after the testing the President talked about that showed apparent explosives in those devices.
As John said, counterterrorism officials at all levels of our government quickly went into action in order to take the steps necessary to protect the American people. That has — that is exactly what has governed his actions and the actions of those in this government since that time.
Forget that the question makes no sense (the White House trying to gin up a fear that the thumbsuckers have decided only helps Republicans). The important thing is that the press make sure this President, as opposed to the frat boy masquerading as president who preceeded him, doesn’t compromise national security for political advantage.
It may work again this time. Then again, cell phone polling being difficult and robo polling subject to bias, and the traditional turnout expectations being, perhaps, way off, maybe this time it won’t.
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby have just made an album that warns us about hope. These are Hornby’s lyrics, but they are not about politics and are about issues of life and death. Still, they provide a warning and context
You know what hope is, hope is a bastard
Hope is a liar, a cheat and a tease
Hope comes near you, kick its backside
Got no place in days like these
And just as she’s thinking of pulling the blind down
A rocket bursts in front of her eyes
The city lit up, London’s given a bright crown
She tries and fails to stop spirits rise
President Clinton is coming to my little town tonight in support of our Congressman, a really good man who has found many different ways to contribute to our lives over many years but is a member of Congress largely thanks to President Bush’s incompetence. He has a tough race this year against a tea party ophthalmologist who, unsurprisingly, does not like health care reform.
Still, by the end of the evening, to be be certain, President Clinton will make us feel that anything is possible. And it is.
Jon Stewart did us all a favor. More than anything else, he showed us where we are going. This will end. The next generation knows better and will move past race and form a more perfect union. That is our hope.