Politics and Grassroots

Why “professional politicians” win

This popped up in my Twitter feed today, and it’s a really good question right now.

Yesterday, Bobby Jindal joined Scott Walker and Rick Perry as multiple-term governors who bowed out of the Presidential race. Polls (albeit with questionable methodology) show neophytes Donald Trump and Ben Carson at the top of the Republican primary heap for now.

To interlope into this Twitter conversation, does an effective candidate for President have to be a career politician?*

The answer is: Almost definitely.

Sure, there are plenty of citizen-activists who have held very prominent offices without prior political experience. Jesse Ventura was actually governor of Minnesota once. Current Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson went from being a businessman speaking at a tea party rally to the Upper House on Capitol Hill within a few months. Arnold Schwarzenegger (and, for that matter, Ronald Reagan) held the California Governor’s mansion with little political experience.

But as with many walks of life, the need for tested expertise expands with the prominence of the stage. The amount of effort and money expended on Presidential races mean candidates have to be on their game.

Put another way: If some Jonny Yutz off the street grabs steps into the batter’s box against a junior college pitcher, they might make contact and get a base hit. Send them up against even a mediocre long reliever from the bigs, and it’s probably a strikeout.

On television, baseball looks easy, doesn’t it? When a batter strokes a single to center field, the swing can look so fluid and easy that it makes you think, “Yeah, I could do that.” We don’t see the hours in batting cages spent working just on the position of the batter’s feet, or the way his hips turn, or where he holds his hands in his batting stance. We don’t see the hitting coach who told him that this pitcher likes to throw get-me-over changeups on 2-1 counts to lefties.

With Presidential candidates, we see debate performances. We see stump speeches. We see polls and talking heads acting as campaign surrogates. We get mail and robocalls, and we see TV ads – boy, do we ever see TV ads! But we don’t see the phone calls to donors asking for money. We don’t see the person organizing volunteers to walk door-to-door speaking with voters. We don’t see the guy with three computer monitors telling the digital department that if turnout changes by 1.3% in Macomb County, the campaign will likely win Michigan.

We sure don’t see people being dragged to the polls, which is how contested campaigns are really won.

Could Jonny Yutz step off the street and, with some natural talent, intelligence, and practice, get a hit off a major league pitcher? Sure. But Jonny might not even know how to get himself into hitting shape.

Often, “outsider” Presidential candidates talk a big game about changing politics as usual, but fail to recognize that politics as usual is usual because it works. President Obama’s 2008 outsider bid offers a great example; for all the platitudes about change, they followed a very basic strategy of identifying supporters and turning them out. They simply out-organized Hillary Clinton in the primaries and John McCain in the general election.

Trump might be an exception.

As a businessperson, one would hope Trump understands the peculiarities of different markets. He likely wouldn’t launch a fast food company without learning what has made companies like McDonald’s successful. If Trump has brought that mentality to his presidential campaign, he might actually have a shot.

But that will only be if he recognizes that, as with any other business, there is an expertise to winning campaigns. Those who ignore that fact are doomed to lose.

*(To be a little clearer, let’s call a career politician someone who would have an elected office as their current title on their debate chyron. Trump, Carson, and Carly Fiorina would be noted for their accomplishments outside of elected office. Someone like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, though they have not held office in a while, would be more recognized as “professional politicians.”)





Congratulations, David Ortiz!

It looks like David Ortiz – “Big Papi,” as he is so affectionately known in Boston – will retire after 2016. Expect the coming baseball season to be a year of celebration for one of the iconic baseball players of the past 15 years.

What has been most amazing about David Ortiz’s career is his success since joining the Red Sox in 2003. Remember, he spent the first six seasons of his major league career with the Twins. He seemed like a solid player, but not spectacular. And that’s no small sample size. For all the world, it looked like Ortiz would spend his major career as a platoon player or an extra roster piece.

Then he went to Boston, and something happened.

In Ortiz’s three years as a regular before leaving Minnesota, he hit 48 home runs total. Amazingly, In his first three years in Beantown, he hit 119 (almost 2.5 times as many over the same span). As the sluggers who made baseball so much fun in the 1990’s faded, Ortiz stepped in to take up the baton passed from stars like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Barry Bonds.

Despite stretches where Ortiz appeared to suffer the physical breakdowns that afflicted so many of the other promising sluggers of his era – like Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi – he remained productive. He’s ninth all time in home runs hit after turning 30, putting up numbers comparable to the likes of Bonds, Palmeiro, McGwire, and Sosa.

As a player who spent much of his career as a key element within a heated rivalry, Ortiz has his detractors, opposing fans, and other negative voices. Results speak for themselves, though, and Big Papi’s results speak positively.

Politics and Grassroots, Sports

English, career advancement, and Jose Abreu

The idea that immigrants should learn English is easy to dismiss as a quasi-racist attempt to expunge foreign cultures from America. The pro-English crowd doesn’t do itself a whole ton of favors, either, even as Americans largely support the position.

Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox gets it. While some of his less-accomplished teammates might try to work on their baseball mechanics in the Arizona Fall League once the baseball season is over, Abreu wants to learn English:

“That’s my goal. I want to be a leader and I know that for that, I have to learn the language,” Abreu said through an interpreter Tuesday. “And that’s my focus for this offseason. It’s one of the things that I have on my list. I know if I can learn a little bit more of the language, I can express myself in a better way with my teammates and my coaches. It’s going to help our relationship.”

He’s already a great player, but Abreu wants more – and he understands that means understanding the country’s dominant language. That’s especially wise considering Abreu makes north of $11 million a year and is one of the up-and-coming stars of baseball, a sport which employs a high percentage of Spanish speakers as players, coaches, and managers. Abreu isn’t at a place in life where he needs to learn other people’s languages.

Yet, when Chicago’s 2015 season ends, Abreu plans to do just that – so that he can move beyond being an excellent player and become an excellent teammate as well. And when Abreu’s bat slows and his legs get achy and heavy with age, he won’t want for opportunities to stay in the game – whether as an announcer or in coaching, managing, or the front office.

Public services which cater to Spanish speakers without asking them to learn English promote the status quo. For Abreu, maybe the status quo is earning “only” $11 million annually, rather than getting a sweet franchise cornerstone-type of paycheck in the $20 million range. What about the status quo for a recent immigrant struggling to earn enough to support a family?

With his still-giant paycheck and an offseason’s worth of time to spend, Abreu has the means to take this initiative. It’s worth wondering who else might jump at a chance like this – and whether our public services do enough to nurture it.

Crummy Little Podcast, Politics and Grassroots

Debate recap and a farewell to Walker

Beverly Hallberg was super-nice enough to record this week’s Crummy Little Podcast right after the last GOP debate, and you can see some of her predictions are coming true already. She said people would start dropping off, and there goes Scott Walker.

Walker’s abrupt exit still leaves the Republican field crowded, and the big crowd includes a few well-funded candidates. Past primaries have served as surmountable obstacles for early favorites, providing just enough resistance to make the smart-money candidate break a sweat. This time, there isn’t a favorite, and a good chunk of the party finds the supposed front-runner less than ideal.

That’s a recipe for a brokered convention. If any four of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and John Kasich come into the Republican convention with a hefty amount of delegates. Trump has a plurality, but there’s no majority. How does that play out?

The easiest answer is the non-Trumps dropping out and throwing their support behind a consensus candidate. And if you want to be that consensus candidate, now is the time to drop out.

None of the candidates have lost any votes, yet – their greatest crimes have been poor poll performance. They could credibly blame lackluster fundraising for their exits (“money in politics” is an effective bogeyman). They can hope that their failures of 2015 are forgotten by the summer of 2016. The two who have dropped out so far – Walker and Rick Perry – boasted very successful gubernatorial records.

Could the busy, noisy, crowded field that drowns out the voices of accomplished candidates be the factor that re-opens the door next year?

Well… no. It’s probably more likely to be a House of Cards story arc than a real-life convention drama. But if there was a cycle where something this bizarre could happen, 2016 might be it.


September 12

It has been 14 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks. It’s the day each year when Americans share the answer to a very simple, basic question: “Where were you?” The question begs no further clarification needed, at least not today. Those who were alive and cognizant at the time remember just where they were.

For all the sadness, heartbreak, ugliness, and terror of September 11, something amazing happened on September 12. It’s a bit tough to talk about because of the gravity and the horror of the attacks themselves. It manifested itself in different ways, not all of them good. There was patriotism, and love of country. There was a resolve to fight the forces behind the attacks.

But in the days after September 11, we had more than blind patriotism. We had community. We had each other.

It’s easy now to write that off as a fad of the time, to point to the catchy post-9/11 country ballads, the now-onerous airport security, and most of all the unpopular wars that sprang from the attacks. Listening to today’s political rhetoric makes it easy to forget the unity America felt.

You can see the continuation of that each year on Facebook, when people share tributes to their lost friends and loved ones or simply relive the emotions and experiences of the day.

But as we remember the grief each year, so too should we remember that feeling of togetherness that outweighed our disagreements back then – because there’s nothing more singularly American, nor more human, than getting up after falling down.

We should remember that when we hear Lee Greenwood sing “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the very first thing he sings about – the very first thing! – is getting knocked down and getting back up.

We should remember that our national anthem isn’t a song about purple mountains and fruited plains. No, our national anthem is adapted from a poem about taking a bombardment from the dominant military power in the world at the time – and standing strong. (And we used one of their old drinking songs for the tune. Cheers, mates.)

And you know what happens when you sing the national anthem publicly, and get nervous, and mess it up? This:

We should remember that no matter how loosely stitched our seems appear, the thread that holds us together is strong. That no matter how horrible and scary a day September 11, on September 12 we were family.

We should remember all that – and never forget.

Crummy Little Podcast

Crummy Little Podcast Episode 8: Robin Speer

Canada is having an election. It takes our neighbors to the north just 78 days for their election cycle, and they are just now ramping up halfway through it. Luckily, Robin Speer joined the podcast this week to help me figure out what’s going on.

Seventy-eight days! Seriously. American media will spend the next 78 days talking about Trump, and even then we’ll be months away from any meaningful votes.