Foul Ball

Clinton's Baseball Answer Doesn't Matter

Last Wednesday, Tim Russert batted cleanup at the Democratic debate with a softball question: Red Sox or Yankees?

While I hope there aren’t any voters out there who would actually weigh a candidate’s answer to a question that defines irrelevant (other contenders: Snickers or Twix?; Boxers or briefs?) it’s something of a tradition to end the debates with an attempt to get the contenders to reveal something personal.

Hillary Clinton—who grew up in suburban Chicago—was asked a follow up: If the Cubs and the Yankees faced each other in the World Series, which would she back?

Health care policy this ain’t. (It’s not even the V-chip.) But Hillary, after demurring that given the Cubs record, the match-up was not very likely, answered that she’d “probably have to alternate sides.” Cue the pouncing puditocracy, eager to catalog the response as just another Clinton dodge. Russert replayed the clip on “Meet The Press,” where panelist David Gregory warned it “reeks of calculation.” Doyen David Broder, who needs to read up on geometry, pointed to the statement as more evidence of “triangulating.” The St. Petersburg Times pronounced it the “Flip Flop of the Day.” The Daily News called it a waffle, and The New York Times’ Gail Collins wrote that it was just the kind of answer that, gosh darn it, turns young people away from politics.

Now, I want my president to say where they stand on policy—and when they won’t, I want my press to try to pin them down. (And it’s worth noting that at the same debate Russert rightly struggled to get straight answers from Clinton on Social Security and Iran.) But picking a team is not policy, it’s a personal preference. And like many Americans who’ve moved around the country, it seems that Clinton has picked up more than one favorite. Big deal.

At first, mediabiquitous Republican pollster Frank Luntz seemed to get it. “I’m a baseball fan, a big baseball fan,” he told Fox’s Alan Colmes, before laying out his own evolving, five team, baseball biography. “I grew up with the Baltimore Orioles and at various times have supported the Yankees, the Mets, I’ve done stuff with the Los Angeles Dodgers. And now this time I’m supporting the Chicago Cubs.”

But then, as if on cue, he swung for the fences to shoehorn the exchange into the slippery-Clinton frame: “I guess that qualifies me to run for president as a Democrat…If you can’t choose a baseball team, what can you choose?”

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.