Baseball, pandering, and the long campaign season

Who do you root for?

You know it’s a long campaign season when questions about a candidate’s baseball allegiances are splashed across the front pages of two major newspapers. This happened this morning when the New York media went nuts over Yankee fan Rudy Guiliani’s announcement that he was rooting for the hated Boston Red Sox in the World Series. (The Sox are playing the Colorado Rockies, in case you’re not keeping score at home.) And it’s not the first time in this election cycle that the political media has had a field day with questions over who a politician roots for.

Back in August, reporters exploded in a furor of overblown analysis when Hillary Clinton said in a Democratic debate that if the New York Yankees, her adopted hometown team, and the Chicago Cubs, her real hometown team, met in the World Series, she “would probably have to alternate sides.” Not a stellar moment for the Clinton campaign, to be sure.

The New York Times’ Clyde Haberman, perhaps reading too much into the comment, (but then again, perhaps not), wrote that “[g]ranted, we’re talking here only about baseball, not a war resolution. But a common knock against Mrs. Clinton is that her favorite sport is not baseball but dodge ball. Her Yankees-Cubs response struck even some of her supporters as symptomatic of someone who tends to be too evasive, too measured, too, if you will, Clintonian. It never helps any public figure to say or do things that reinforce unfavorable perceptions.”

Now it’s Rudy Guiliani’s turn in the baseball loyalty hot seat, and the New York media is going wild over his newfound, and politically convenient, love for the Red Sox. (He was campaigning in Boston at the time.) Now Guiliani, a lifelong Yankee fan, is being accused of the same vote pandering that Clinton was.

The New York Post, in its usually understated way, called Rudy the “Yankee Flipper” and “Judas Giuliani,” while running one of its classic front pages. For its part the Daily News ran an unflattering picture of him with the word “Traitor” underneath. The Post, in one of its three stories about the incident, quoted Guy Molinari, New York co-chair of the Giuliani campaign as saying, “I question his Yankee credentials. If you’re a big Yankee fan, you have to hate the Red Sox.” The Obama and Thompson campaigns have also taken shots at Guiliani for his flip-flop. The Post also does a little back of the envelope electoral number crunching, writing that

if Giuliani was pandering, he miscalculated.

In the last presidential election, Colorado went with Republican President Bush, and recent history shows Massachusetts voters would sooner adopt Manhattan clam chowder as the state’s official food than vote Republican in 2008.

Of course, just to the north is New Hampshire — home to many Red Sox fans - and the nation’s first primary.

A miscalculation? Sure. But it goes to show that in an extended campaign season, little things like this make a much bigger splash than they used to, if only because reporters have so much more time to run with seemingly silly little items like these. But in another sense, the answers the two candidates gave do smack of pandering, which is a tried-and-true tactic in American political life. It ain’t new, and it ain’t pretty, but with the endless campaigns in the modern political cycle, it’s a fact of life moreso than it has ever been before.

But still, no Yankee fan should everever—root for the Sox. What was Rudy thinking?

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.