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Irregular Jonathan Speaks:
Playing in the Bush League

Earlier this year, George W. Bush's web site featured an essay entitled Running for President is a Lot Like Playing Baseball. In this essay, subtitled The Game, Bush says the Republicans and Democrats are comparable to the American and National Leagues, straw poll competitions are like regular season baseball games, primaries are like playoff games and Election Day is like the World Series. Bush stresses that in the end only one Major League team and only one Presidential candidate can be the "winner."

Well, is Bush right? Is running for President essentially a baseball game? Let's consider the possibilities:

Ways in Which Running for President is Like Playing a Baseball Game

  1. You Can Buy Your Way Into the Game.
    George W. knows about the role of money in baseball. In his thirties and forties, Bush ran a series of business enterprises into the ground. His investors, mostly wealthy friends and family who were willing to give Junior a shot, recouped just 45 cents for every dollar they invested.

    Nevertheless, the future Republican candidate for President was invited by a bunch of Texas cronies to buy a share of the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989. Bush's investment: a tad more than $600,000. Surprise, Surprise -- the Vice President's son was able somehow to convince the city government in Arlington to chip in over $200 million in tax breaks, plus a taxpayer-subsidized stadium, to the Rangers organization. When Junior turned around and sold his share, he collected a cool $14.9 mil, almost 25 times his original investment.

    Don't believe me? Believe CNN. Read all about it right here.

  2. You Can Buy a Winning Team.
    One of the biggest problems in baseball today is the inequity in funding from club to club. Teams in big media markets (like New York) rake in the cash from broadcast fees and are able to hire the priciest, most skilled players. Teams in small media markets, however, have a smaller cash pool with which to recruit players. Guess which teams head to the World Series?

    If George W. Bush really uses baseball as his model for a presidential run, then he must be a better student than his gentleman's C average in school indicated. Well before the primary season began, George and his team of advisers had rounded up a lion's share of Republican fund-raisers. They all promised to give money to Bush and nobody but Bush. As a result, serious contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination were forced to drop out of the race even before it began. Candidate Elizabeth Dole made it perfectly clear when she dropped out of the running: "I've learned that the current political calendar and election laws favor those who get an early start and can tap into huge private fortunes or who have a pre-existing network of political supports." This means George and his dad's pre-built political network.

    Even John McCain didn't drop out because he was unpopular. To the contrary: he had gained some serious momentum with his initial primary victories, and a significant portion of the Republican electorate were in his camp. No, he quit the race because his fund-raising machine just couldn't beat Bush.

    The domination of campaign cash over good ideas, or even popularity with the general public, in determining the outcome of elections means that George Bush became the conservative champion for President without even having a legitimate opponent in most states. Most Republicans didn't get a chance to reject Bush; the money vote was already in.

Ways in Which Running for President is not Like Playing a Baseball Game

  1. Politics is not a Game. The subtitle of Bush's web piece, "The Game," is supposed to equally apply to his description of baseball and a run for the presidency. This may be news to Junior, but running for President isn't a game -- it's serious business. You know what I mean, don't you, Dubya: in between watching the campaign contributions roll in, tallying endorsements, following opponents' media gaffes, coming up with crafty advertising strategies and tracking poll numbers, there are some important things being decided: who has the power to send us into war (by the way, fella, that's not a game either), who writes a first draft of the national budget, who's going to pick the justices that will decide on abortion, gay rights, gun control, free speech, religion/state separation, and all that other pesky stuff in the 500-page policy books you've said you'd really rather not read.

    But, then again, it's not surprising that Bush seems to think this is all a game: after all, his life has been nothing but. Bush gets all sanctimonious about the public education system, saying that the last thing our schools need is more money; rather, what schools need is punishment for teachers who don't measure up. Yet Bush has failed time and time again, and his daddy's connections have ensured he'd always be hoisted back up to the occasion. Poor grades? That's OK, he's a Bush -- Welcome to Andover, Welcome to Yale. No business experience? That's OK, he's George H.'s son -- here's a few mil to play with. Business after business go down the tubes? That's OK, he's the VP's son (and we're making money back on tax shelters anyway) -- so here's some more money to go try and go bust again and again and again. Dubya keeps saying he's like the rest of us, but he isn't -- he's never been able to lose, because those powerful family ties won't let him. No wonder he compares everything he's doing to a game.

  2. Politics isn't Supposed to be about Politicians Winning. In 1996, most Americans didn't like Bob Dole's politics, but you could tell that he knew that running for President was about more than just himself -- to Dole, it was about differences in ideas about the way the country should be run. When Dole lost, he was humble enough to recognize the humor in his humiliation (and parlay it into advertising spots for credit cards and Viagra).

    Bush, on the other hand, focuses on himself: "The candidate with the most votes on Election Day wins. The winner becomes President of the United States in January 2001." Here's a clue, Junior: the raising of all those millions of campaign dollars, the curtailed primary season, that spiffy televised convention, all those ads with your face on them, all those signs with your name on them, NONE of that is really about you. Nobody really cares if you win: not the American people, not members of your party, not your fatcat contributors, not really even your own advisers. You're not going to win the Presidency because people think you're spiffy and they want you to win some the "World Series" of some stupid sport called "politics". You're only important to the extent that you're supposed to represent some carefully thought-out ideas about what matters and what doesn't in steering this country. The outcome of this fall's election only matters because it will determine who has the power to change everyone else's lives. Maybe when you understand that, George, maybe when you understand that this presidential election isn't all a game, you'll be more deserving of the office you want to "win." Until then, many of us will continue to confound you by supporting another candidate who is focused on something other than the preservation of his own unreal winning streak.