Duel to Ruin

It’s been said to me that after his Presidency, Harry Truman said his biggest political fear was “partisan sorting”- that all the liberals would become Democrats, and all the conservatives would be Republicans. We’ve basically lived that out. Just about every Republican in Congress calls themselves a conservative, while Democrats stand behind the equally valueless term of all being progressives. Our sorting has probably gone even further than Truman could have ever forecasted though, as voters increasingly have sorted themselves demographically- to the point where one can passingly look at someone and almost know how they vote.

Today is the 214th anniversary of the duel between Vice-President Burr and Treasury Secretary Hamilton at Weehawken, NJ. Most Americans regard that event today as silly, an example of how not to resolve our differences. The truth of the matter though is that our divisions today are certainly no different than they were then. The era of Donald Trump, following the eras of Obama, Bush 43, and Clinton, is just the next step in our paralyzing polarization. Family members aren’t speaking, friendships have ended, and insults have been hurled over an election that is two years into our past now. I get why- the current President has actively tried to harm groups of people who are in the opposite political party- but this is no healthy way for a country’s politics to function. The backlash is an increasingly identity based Democratic ticket for the 2018 mid-terms, which will only polarize more a national election that really should be about who our country is. The further down the rabbit hole we entered with Newt Gingrich’s quest to destroy Bill Clinton that we go, the worse the problem gets.

The functional problem with our increased polarization is that it destroys all political considerations but partisanship. It is in the interests of a representative at any level of government to represent the interests of the people who elected them. Democrats represent liberal voters, because conservative voters are Republicans, and vice-versa. Split-ticket voting decreases. It changes governing behavior too. When there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, there could be someone with similar political interests to compromise with. In this environment, Republicans voted against everything President Obama wanted, and were rewarded by their voters with total control of the federal government and many states. Democratic voters have shown little interest in rewarding any Democrats for working with Donald Trump. The result is party-line, ideological legislation.

The broader political result is a Congress that cant get much done. The New England Republican is gone. The Blue Dog is gone. The Republican Party in Congress has a chance to be rid of all pro-choice members, and be entirely pro-life. Demographics are kicking solidly liberal Democratic Congressmen like Joe Crowley and Mike Capuano to the curb. We like to say politics are tribal, but the Congress is literally taking on an “us vs. them” look. When the parties divide like that, you’re not going to get much compromise or unity, even behind things of national importance. It’s better politics to attack the other side for anything they do.

Some say it doesn’t matter. My perspective has always been different. One of my first bosses, Senator Chris Dodd, used to talk about how he passed legislation co-sponsored by the likes of Orrin Hatch, Pete Dominici, and Mitch McConnell. He proudly spoke of passing the Family and Medical Leave Act with Republican co-sponsors. I don’t want to hold up the 80’s and early 90’s as some era of special national unity, as Senator Dodd had to fight for the passage of FMLA through two vetoes by President George H.W. Bush, but the point is that Congress got stuff done then. Major 20th Century achievements such as the interstate highway system, the space program to the Moon, and the 1960’s Civil Rights legislation were passed bi-partisanly. We call LBJ the “master of the Senate” today because he was able to work across the aisle both as Senate Majority Leader and President to pass major, nation-changing legislation.

Today, LBJ would have been primaried in 1954- and who knows how different history would be.

Baseball is Fine

Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy recently wrote that baseball’s sky is falling. He’s not alone in that common take. It seems that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agrees. They argue the game is too slow, analytics are changing the game, that there are too many bad teams, that the game lacks faces. On each point, their arguments come off flat though.

Is a baseball game too slow? The average baseball game is about three hours and five minutes, which may very well be too long for someone with the attention span of my younger dog. For comparison though, Sunday football games kick off at 1pm, and the second NFL game of the day typically kicks off at just after 4pm, or about three hours later. That’s better than the prime time games, which go longer because of commercials. It’s worth noting that an NFL game is 60 minutes in length, meaning two-thirds of the time I’m watching the Eagles, I’m getting some non-action garbage. NBA and NHL games tend to stay a little under three hours, but feature a similar ratio of game to non-game time. Despite all of the discussion of baseball’s pace of play, they objectively don’t have a problem here that every other sport has- Americans can’t pay attention to something for three hours.

There is no doubt that analytics have changed baseball, and particularly play-by-play outcomes within baseball. Defensive “shifts” of player positioning around the diamond have decreased the number of base hits in a game, something Phillies fans saw all too much in the Ryan Howard era. The increasing refinement of relief pitching has hurt offenses as well, as there are now specialists to get every kind of hitter now. Hitters are refining their swings to increase their “exit-velocity” and “launch angle,” in part because it’s harder to hit a baseball past defenders anymore. It seems like analytics have changed everything, in part because they do. Do we really want to “dumb down” the game though to decrease strikeouts and home runs? Is the game really more interesting because we have more singles sneaking through the hole? I’m very skeptical that analytics are what is hurting baseball.

There are some terrible baseball teams in Baltimore, Kansas City, Miami, and Texas, just as New York had two rotten NFL teams last year, the Cleveland Browns are perpetual garbage, and the Brooklyn Nets are among probably a dozen NBA teams in purgatory. Sports are going to have bad teams. Baseball is no different. The mega-markets- New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, San Francisco, and Phoenix- all are enjoying seasons where they have teams in contention, which is good for the sport’s economics. The thing is, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Cleveland are all small market teams that are in contention too. Kansas City won a World Series three years ago. Pittsburgh has been in the post-season recently. New York and Chicago have teams having lousy seasons right now too. Baseball doesn’t have a particular problem with competitive imbalance, at least not beyond any other sport’s issues.

Does baseball lack “faces” to market? Shaughnessy seems to imply that baseball needs a “flat Earth” moron like Kyrie Irving to make headlines. Perhaps baseball needs LeBron James type figures leaving their teams in shambles every four years to find the next greener pastures, or Kevin Durant taking the easiest way possible to a title, but I disagree. No, Mike Trout is not one to make headlines with his mouth, but is that necessary? Is Bryce Harper not interesting enough? Obviously the face of the game has changed a bit, the brand is more global now, and maybe that has left some people without stars to latch on to. I’m not sure baseball, or really anyone, needs ball players to start talking about a flat Earth though to be interesting.

Baseball certainly has some issues, I don’t disagree with that. Games are unaffordable for most families- my Phillies seats cost $45, a beer is running around $13, and the cheapest food is $10, and that’s after the gas to drive there and $18 to park. Most Americans simply don’t have that kind of disposable income anymore. While I generally support the idea of guaranteed contracts, teams have been getting themselves stuck in bad contracts with aging players that are past their primes. I could go either way on banning defensive “shifts,” though I think that’s a dangerous direction for the game. Prime time and playoff games start too late for most people, let alone kids, to watch. I could go on with my list of changes to the game, but I don’t think the game is broken. I’ve gone to 26 professional games this season because baseball and the beach are really the only two uses I have for the Summer.

Baseball’s real problems are not the ones being cited by Dan Shaughnessy or Commissioner Rob Manfred. Baseball hurt itself by trying to compete with the NFL business model. Baseball is being hurt by a segment of fans with a low attention span. Baseball needs to be family-economic friendly. Baseball needs to not let franchises get themselves in over-leveraged holes, like Miami, or in decrepit situations like Oakland and Tampa Bay. Baseball needs to stop chasing marginal fans who can’t pay attention to a whole game.

What baseball doesn’t need is “flat Earthers” slapping singles to right-field in two hour games. Just saying.

Truth or Consequence…

I often have to remind myself, life is a choice. When my great-grandmother came to America, it was a choice. When my grandfathers enlisted in the military, it was a choice. When I got myself involved in politics, it was a choice. We make choices, and we live with the consequences, good and bad.

Politics has done some amazing things for me. It’s taken me across the country. It’s introduced me to life long friends. It’s allowed me to live at the pinnacle of American power. Senators, Congressmen, Governors, state legislative leaders, even Presidents- I’ve had the opportunity to interact with them, work for them, and even occasionally influence them. The one thing I’ve never had to do is lie awake at night and wonder if I’ve tried to make the world a better place on the issues I care about most. I’m pretty at peace with that.

There is another side to everything in life. Professional politics changes everyone in it. The 19 year old version of me was far feistier and idealistic than me of today. You learn that real politics isn’t about getting everything you want, and standing on principle to the point of failure is not noble, but idiotic. You learn to compromise with the hand of cards your dealt, even when you don’t want to. You realize at some point there is so much human suffering that you can’t possibly fix it all, no matter how much you do. You realize that human progress yields new issues to combat, literally every day. You learn that the problem solvers are hated by virtually everyone on both sides of the electorate. You realize that in politics, there is no “end”- even obvious truth can and will be spun to fit a narrative that lets both sides fight on, and that even the most discredited policy solutions will still find support in their wings, because their world view must be right.

Perhaps the most disappointing piece you learn in politics is that which you learn about the people, those you fight for and against. That a 30 second ad can move opinions dramatically, if there’s enough money to repeat it enough. That even an absolute clown that is nominated for President by one of the two major parties will get 46% of the vote. That political polarization and extremes, despite being decried by virtually everyone in America, are where the energy is in American politics, and they are what attract people to become active in the process. That talking points are being “on message,” while in-depth thought is “dangerous.” That ideological purity has destroyed the compromise politics of your grandparents, because the two sides literally want different and opposing things now. That a functional country is a secondary goal to ideology for most of those that are in the process. That our current state of politics doesn’t represent the majority of Americans, let alone the “middle 50%” of us.

But hey- this is what I signed up for. I know the truths, and I know the consequences.

Keep Trusting the Process

LeBron to Philly didn’t happen. The truth is, he wanted to live in LA. It doesn’t matter that the Sixers have a better team, and one of the most passionate fan bases in the league, and a great history. It doesn’t matter that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are the most exciting duo in the East. None of that mattered. LeBron wanted to go Hollywood. I guess his wife and kids wanted to be at the beach. That’s really all that mattered here.

All of that is fine. LeBron would have short-term made the Sixers the favorites in the East. The long-term outlook still rides on the development of their young core. If you don’t think Joel Embiid will improve as a presence on the glass, forget it. If you don’t think Ben Simmons will learn to shoot, forget it. If you think Markelle Fultz is a bust, the first two better happen. The Sixers are very young, and should improve. If not? Then signing LeBron wouldn’t have mattered.

The Sixers enter next season really only behind Boston in the Eastern Conference’s elite. They won 52 games and a playoff series in what amounted to the first full season for Joel Embiid, and the actual rookie season for Ben Simmons. They should only get better. You could put the team on auto-pilot right now and predict them to lose the Conference Finals to Boston- which really isn’t that bad this early in their championship window. I obviously don’t believe that’s what will happen, I expect moves to come. They’re in contention to win the conference and they’re going to try to do that.

I’ve pretty much soured on trading for Kawhi Leonard though at this point, and not because I don’t think he’s great (he’s top five in the game for sure). Getting Kawhi on a one year rental, when he seems intent on getting to LA, when the team would only be a coin flip to win the East then, and a huge underdog against Golden State still, seems like it might not be enough of a reason to trade the likes of Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, and multiple picks. Yes, if he left the Sixers would have close to $50 million in cap space to use, and could recover, but it would still be quite a hit, for the potential of marginally better results. The Sixers may do just as well with what they have.

LeBron will languish in the West with the headache of Lonzo Ball, the expectations of an impatient fan base, and the inability to beat Golden State. At this point, we probably won’t ever see him in an NBA Final again, so it’s time we just forget about him. The path forward for the Sixers to become a championship contender is right in front of them. Look for opportunities to bring in a star to grow with the young core, and develop the young core. Add pieces that make sense.

Basically, Trust The Process.

LABron? LAFail

And just like that, it was over. LeBron James gave the Cavaliers a call, he sent his agent to meet with the Sixers, but he went to Los Angeles. It’s clear his decision was as good as made before free agency began. He was always going to Hollywood. Once he had his championship in Cleveland, this became inevitable.

Is it about living the LA lifestyle, his family, and the enticement of Magic Johnson talking business with him? I have to believe yes. As a basketball move, it makes less sense to go to a 35 win team with little real talent. As a legacy move, the Lakers will never be “his”- even if he succeeds. In fact, LeBron will basically revert to Miami LeBron, where most fans other teams now want him to lose. He made this choice for personal reasons, which is fine, but really won’t help him much in the ever-annoying comparisons to a certain player with the initials MJ.

I think we all assume that Magic Johnson has some sort of plan to build this team- even if some of us suspect Magic will fail. Maybe they will get Kawhi Leonard today, maybe in a year- or maybe he’ll Paul George them. You would be forgiven though for looking at the Lakers roster around LeBron and laughing. If you’re thinking that none of their guys would start in Boston or Golden State, I’d have to agree. If you’re thinking New Orleans, Houston, Philadelphia, Utah, and Oklahoma City would all beat the current roster in five or six games, you’re probably right. If you’re wondering how they’re going to be any good if they trade their precious few raw talents that are young to get a second star- I’m with you there too.

The Lakers were a bad basketball team the last few years. Not a rebuilding one, but a bad one. LeBron could get through a weak Eastern Conference the past few years with a poor roster, but life is different in the West. Trying to take on Houston with Lonzo Ball on the court with him isn’t going to work. Beating Golden State with Kyle Kuzma as your next leading scorer isn’t happening either. Perhaps adding Lance Stephenson will help, but it’s not like he’s won a bunch either. Until they get another real star, this is a team that should be happy to make the second round out West.

Time is ticking away for LeBron too. He’s into his mid-30’s now. The time to win is this year, and the Lakers are far from equipped to help him do it. It is possible that LeBron believes he can take any pile of garbage deep in the playoffs. It’s also possible he just doesn’t care anymore. He knows his fans love him, and everyone else says Michael Jordan was better. It’s possible that winning a title in Cleveland is all he felt obligated to do. It’s also possible that he’s just looking at Golden State and throwing his hands in the air. If you can’t beat them, have fun and have nicer beaches than them.

Lakers fans, ESPN, and opportunistic Vegas bookies are going to love the next few months now, as hyperbolic nonsense about the Lakers contending gets discussed. The rest of us are going to love watching LeBron, Magic, and the Lakers come up short in the next four years.