Bethlehem, My Thinking Town

Everyone has their place they go to think. It’s a place of comfort, a place to decompress your thoughts, a place where you can make sense of everything in life. For me, that place is a whole city- Bethlehem, PA. I “grew up” in Bethlehem, which is to say that I went to college here. I’m at peace when I’m back on campus at Moravian. I’m at peace when I go up to Lookout Mountain. Lately though, I’ve been doing most of my work over coffee in South Side Bethlehem. There’s a couple of really good spots, and I can mostly be left to myself there.

I’ve had so many important moments in Bethlehem, some fun and some not. The annual Musikfest (which begins Saturday) is one of my favorite weeks of the whole year. Main Street is a great place to eat or have a drink. I would not mind eventually living in Bethlehem.

I’m in Bethlehem right now having a coffee. Rest assured I’m thinking over some major decisions.

The Two Left-Wings

The one thing everyone in American politics agrees on is that Democrats are moving left. When you dig beneath that somewhat generic statement though, you get to a sort of major detail question: what does that mean? “Moving left” to a populist progressive who voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 means something different than “moving left” might to a more “identity” driven liberal. In some cases the two might overlap, but if you listen to the rhetoric, the two aren’t aligned very closely right now.

It’s really hard to keep the American “left” together, and frankly it’s probably not necessary. The idea that you’re going to “unify” the entire left behind a specific policy agenda might sound very good, but liberals and progressives come to politics for different reasons. Someone coming to left-wing politics because of a concern about civil rights may not be particularly passionate about taxes. You can be anti-war and not particularly motivated by pro-choice politics. Immigration reform activists can clash with labor. The American left is really a patchwork of interest groups that come together as much out of necessity as anything else. They may not agree on everything, but it stands to reason in the era of Donald Trump that they would at least all “row in the same direction.”

The good news is that all of these groups overlap enough, particularly against the current administration, and I believe this will lead to the Democrats winning the House. The bad news is that won’t in-and-of-itself heal the current Clinton-Sanders divide beneath the surface. The good news on that is that the 2020 election is less than a year away, and the new race will re-define the party. The bad news? The last time the Democratic Party was this fractured was after the 1968 and 1980 losses, both of which were followed by blowout losses. The Democratic Party in a fractured state tends to lurch further left and nominate uninspiring candidates to the nation at-large. Donald Trump’s approval may stink, but this generation’s McGovern won’t beat him. Democrats would be well advised in 2020 to not indulge their deepest desires too much, and rather to nominate someone who can appeal to voters they don’t already receive votes for.

Otherwise it won’t matter which left wins.

Real America, Re-Visited

Yesterday, the New York Times put out an interactive map of the 2016 Election, broken out down to the precinct level. While some critics have noted how the map doesn’t depict population density or the “swing” of the districts, I find the map to be very fascinating and useful, particularly for understanding the basic structural contours of America and it’s politics.

The most basic thing the map accurately depicts is the biggest problem Democrats have- while they may make up a plurality of the electorate, they all live together, which doesn’t work in a federal republic. It’s great that we can win California by a couple of million votes, but it doesn’t really do us much good winning Presidential elections. We win blue districts by 60%+, and still only get that one seat. They win an exurban seat by 20% or less and it’s a wash. You can only really draw so many seats in San Francisco.

What also stands out to me is in how much of the country we are simply uncompetitive. Sure, Republicans are nearly non-existent in urban areas now, but they’ll take that trade when they dominate nearly the entire Midwest and Appalachian Trail states. This split of the country probably insures a long-term Senate dominance, and it tends to reinforce itself at the House level. A Democratic caucus so entrenched in urban America is a Democratic Party that in turn tends to move left on issues, making itself uncompetitive with voters who aren’t from their base.

Democratic operatives are largely unprepared to run elections in the nation that is. They understand statistics and data, but really don’t understand margins. They’ve figured out that a huge portion of a Democratic candidates votes will come out of cities, and that it’s easier and cheaper to get votes in base areas, but they’ve failed to understand that even a huge city like Philadelphia can’t carry Pennsylvania when they lose by dramatic margins everywhere else. It’s very clear when you look at Philadelphia and Detroit that the politics make a stark change the minute you cross the city line.

American elections are, and will continue to be won in suburbia, at all levels. If there aren’t enough city-based blue seats for Democrats to form a majority, and the rural areas are too far gone politically, then the only pathway forward for Democrats to win legislative majorities and win statewide victories are the suburban voters. One of the most alarming things about Trump’s Pennsylvania victory in 2016 was just how well he did in Northeast Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, and even in some of the Philadelphia exurbs. While the “Main Line” area became more blue, Eastern Lancaster County, Berks County, Northampton and Monroe Counties all moved in the wrong direction. This will have to reverse itself for the Democrats to win the House in 2018.

The question Democrats have to ask themselves moving forward is who are the voters they are going to pick up, and what kind of message is going to get it done? The good news for the national party- I see hope in the South. There may not be a more geographically sustained “blue” strain on the entire map than the one running from the Mississippi River towns across the Deep South all the way to Georgia and the Carolinas. There are systemic reasons this region hasn’t produced majorities for Democrats- voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter apathy, and resources to run campaigns- but the future could be bright here. If Democrats continue to fight for voting rights and move forward embracing their base, perhaps the Deep South may be the one region where current electoral trends break well for Democrats.

Ultimately though, electoral trends should scare Democrats. Even if the Deep South moves towards Democrats, that will not offset the negative trends in other regions. The Rust Belt is already a swing area where Trump did very well. New England isn’t safe either. Republicans hold the Governor’s mansions in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, and the Governor’s mansion and legislature in New Hampshire. Donald Trump won an electoral vote in Maine, and narrowly missed carrying Maine and New Hampshire, on the whole. Minnesota narrowly avoided joining Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as states that flipped. If all of these states continue to trend Republican, the Senate could disappear for a long time, and the electoral college will crush the emerging majorities in the “big blue” states. With the House having a natural bias against cities in the first place, this will kill the party.

On a final note, the most alarming thing about this map was looking at my own “neighborhood” here on the “enlightened” East Coast. Here in the first county over the stateline from “blue” New Jersey, Donald Trump more than just carried the county- he won some places that Republicans usually don’t win. He won places that don’t look and seem like “Trump Country.” While he didn’t really infiltrate Allentown, Bethlehem, or Easton, he made large sections of Northampton and Lehigh Counties solid red. He won seemingly tolerant suburban neighborhoods. The results of 2017 county elections in the region suggested some movement away from him, but it remains to be seen about the long term electoral trends.

Thank You Chase, 2008 Phillies

In a few minutes, the Phillies will play the Dodgers for the final time this season. The game will be the final regular season game Chase Utley plays in Philadelphia. The greatest Phillies second baseman in club history will retire at the end of the season, and the Dodgers won’t be back in town.

For the first time since 2012, the Phillies are playing important games, and fittingly Utley is back in town. The fan favorite from the 2008 team is now a bench piece on the first-place Dodgers, the reigning NL Champions. The Phillies fan base is showing Utley the love, giving him standing ovations before and during both games, and it’s well deserved. Not only was Utley a statistically great Phillies player, but he also played the game hard, and never left anything on the field. Oh, and he hated New York.

In just over a week the Phillies will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 2008 Phillies. Utley will be one of just a hand full of players from that championship team who can’t attend because he’s still playing, joining World Series MVP Cole Hamels in that group. That team snapped a 25 year title drought for the city, reminding us that we can sometimes win too. The title came in the midst of an economic collapse that worried us all, but the Phillies gave us an escape, a reason to be happy. I miss that team.

Yes, I’m going to cheer Chase Utley today. Now excuse me, I’m walking in the park.

Sinatra and the Kennedys, Tiger Woods Divorce, and the Trump-Putin Drama

One should not assume another person’s guilt based on indirect evidence, however one should also not neglect behavior that clear-as-day suggests something is happening. Not knowing what Robert Mueller knows, I can’t tell you if Donald Trump knowingly took material support from Russia during the 2016 election. What I do know is that his behavior does not suggest innocence. His behavior suggests that there is more to his relationship with Vladimir Putin than is clear to us.

We should start by at least acknowledging the possibility that Trump and Putin’s relationship is based on shared values and goals. Putin is the kind of “strong-man” dictator Trump tends to respect. Both men espouse very nationalistic world views and policies. Neither has much use for NATO, the G-7, UN, or any other global-view groups. Both men view the Western order of the world with disdain. That may be all there is to this. Evidence just suggests otherwise.

Trump’s performance in the Helsinki Summit with Putin suggests there is more to it. Given that Russian interference on Trump’s behalf is common knowledge to all who accept it, and that we know with near certainty that Donald Trump has accepted loans from banks with Russian ties, there really shouldn’t be much to hide. Trump’s base has heard this stuff at some point along the line, or just refused to, and they don’t care. Trump’s continual submissive deference to Putin, and his refusal to show his financial statements, suggests more is there than meets the eye.

When nothing more is present beyond rumor and innuendo, Presidential history suggests that Administrations don’t proceed as though they have guilt to hide. Perhaps the most famous example is the Kennedy Administration’s posture towards the mafia. Political legend has it that the Kennedys sent close friend Frank Sinatra to meet with Chicago mafia boss Sam Giancana to secure his support in winning Illinois over Richard Nixon. Giancana seems to have delivered on his end of the deal, as JFK narrowly won that state in 1960. We have no way of knowing today if Giancana and the Kennedys has a deal in place at that time, but it was a well known rumor, even then. How did the Kennedy Administration treat the mafia once in office? Attorney General Bobby Kennedy prosecuted them across the country with no fear at all. If the rumors about Giancana’s help were real, they clearly didn’t scare the Kennedys. There just wasn’t anything more lurking there to scare them.

If you have nothing to hide, you don’t hide stuff. Trump’s behavior towards Putin and Russia don’t resemble RFK with the mafia at all. What does Trump’s actions resemble? The best pop culture example that stands out for me is Tiger Woods during his divorce proceedings. It was well known publicly in the press that Woods’ ex-wife Elin Nordegren left him over the golfer’s serial infidelity. Woods infidelity was not a secret at the point he gave her a $100 million divorce settlement. Nordegren came from a well-to-do family and didn’t need his money. Woods still gave her a settlement rumored to be ten times as large as their pre-nuptial agreement specified, in exchange for her promise of silence about their marriage. Why would Woods give away so much money for silence? Clearly because there was more to the situation than we could see.

Even if Russia did help Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election, that doesn’t mean Trump himself committed a crime. He’s at very little risk of being removed from office, or being prosecuted, despite the clear bad behavior of others in his orbit. There’s no really good reason that Trump doesn’t behave like JFK and his administration did towards the mafia after the 1960 election- if we truly already have heard the worst of it. Trump is paying no political price for the widely reported Russian interference on his behalf. He’s unlikely to ever pay a legal price either. The only reason I can come up with for his behavior in Helsinki is that like Tiger Woods in his divorce, Trump has more to hide in his relationship with Russia.

I would suggest we don’t sensationalize this with talk of prostitutes and “pee tapes”- would that shock us? It is far more likely that Donald Trump’s fear of Russia stems from his financial entanglements, which may reveal he’s not actually that rich, or worse yet, crimes he committed prior to entering the White House. No matter what Trump’s hidden secret is, he seems intent to do whatever he has to in order to keep the Kremlin happy. He’s clearly compromised, and fearful of what they could do to him.

That should scare you a lot more than the thought of Russian escorts urinating on a rich American businessman.

Democrats, and Democracy’s, Armageddon

Demographics aren’t destiny. At least not for Democrats. The idea that the “emerging electorate” is coming to save Democrats is something between fantasy and malpractice, a story that Democrats tell themselves to advance the future they want. The cold truth is that a combination of “voter sorting,” federalism, and identity politics are combining to create the most awful storm- one where the future belongs to the Republican base, and not Democrats.

Democrats like to point out that we’re just a few decades from a majority-minority country. They don’t like to point out how right states will have half the population in twenty years. Yes, 84 Senators will be controlled by the more rural, whiter, older states. They will control judicial nominations, treaties, and legislation in general. They’ll also control the electoral college. When you consider the rural/suburban bias that already exists in the House, it’s pretty clear where things are going.

What does this mean? The Democratic base is basically defenseless. Elections like 2016- Democratic popular vote wins, but Republican electoral college wins- are the new norm, not the exception. Democrats who win national elections will have to have appeal well beyond the Democratic base. Republicans won’t be as broadly appealing, as electoral movements encourage them to look into their party’s base.

When Lyndon Johnson acknowledged the electoral repercussions of his civil rights legislation in the 1960’s, I’m not sure anyone foresaw the America we’re moving into. Democrats could have foreseen losing the South, and their Midwestern problems right now aren’t that hard to figure out. What about the issues they’re having in New England though? They hold just two of six Governorships. Sure, those voters haven’t made the leap to a Trump Republican yet- but Maine and New Hampshire got close.

I’m not saying the Democrats won’t win in 2018- they should do well. I’m not saying a Democrat won’t win in 2020. I’m not saying the Democrats will become the Whigs. I’m saying the trends that began in the 1966 mid-terms, and continued through 1994, 2010, and 2016, aren’t ending soon. The future for Democrats isn’t matching Republican vitriol and ideology. It’s not indulging our impulses. Minus some tremendous course change, it’s not even a very nice place.

An Ode to “The Man”

Chase Utley might be the most conflicting sports figure for me in my lifetime. When I’m honest about him, he’s my fourth or fifth favorite Phillies great from the 2007-2011 era of five straight NL East titles, and the 2008 World Series title (behind Howard, Rollins, Hamels, and Victorino). I love him for being the best second baseman in club history, a leader of the first Philadelphia championship team I ever really saw, and a player who loved the biggest moments and biggest stages. Yet, he never really grabbed my imagination like the other guys I mentioned. I resented in some ways the Philadelphia fanbase rallied to him over other stars of that team, as though he was the only guy that “played hard.” I found the analytics crowd’s argument that he was the best Phillies player of the era, over the team’s NL MVP’s, Cy Youngs, and All-Stars completely unconvincing. In short, I liked Chase Utley, but saw him as a better version of Aaron Rowand, loved by Philly for his “blue collar” work ethic, but not really better than Bobby Abreu in actual performance.

All of this is emotional, non-rational rambling about a player that literally every Phillies fan should love. Chase Utley’s offensive game is top five to ten in the history of the game at second base. He took himself from utterly mediocre to top five in the game defensively at second. He hit homers in the World Series like a man possessed. He played hard every, single, damn day. He teamed with Jimmy Rollins to form the greatest double-play combo not only in club history, but in their era of the game. Ok, he angered New York- which is a positive.

Hearing that Utley will retire at the end of the year is sad, but it’s time. In just over a week he’ll make his last appearance in Citizens Bank Park, and I’m fortunate enough to have tickets to the final day game in Philadelphia. He’s played a few years past his prime, and it’s a good time for him to ride off into the sunset. Does he belong in the Hall-of-Fame? Ask me in two years or so. For now I just want to appreciate the guy who tortured Flushing, Queens, and won us a championship in a great career.

Life After Trump

Someday, Donald Trump will be gone. Someday could be months away, if God willing, Bob Mueller finds the President committed criminal acts. It could be January 20th, 2021, if God willing, the Democrats don’t nominate a crazy. We could have six more years though, or worse yet, he could get an heir elected. Because of the uncertainty, we don’t like to talk about what will happen then- be it to the country, the Democratic Party, or to ourselves individually. Instead of being motivated by a brighter future, the Democratic Party is very reactionary right now. When I talk to Democratic voters, their number one motivation is fear. I hear it from women, Latinos, the LGBT community, African-Americans, and millennials. Trump is rolling back each of their rights in the judiciary. His tariffs could destroy our economy. His tax scam could leave us with no ability to pay for a better future too. When I talk to Muslims, they wonder out loud if this is still their country, when the Supreme Court openly upholds Trump’s Muslim travel ban. When I talk to Jewish people, they raise the alarm about so many Revelations fans and “rapture fanatics” setting our foreign policy. More than anything though, I hear people on the Left alarmed by people looking like me– white, straight, Christian males- at the Trump rallies chanting along in his ridiculous road show, glorifying hate and bigotry. People are terrified, and they actually should be.

The damage the imbecile in the White House is doing is real. The damage to marginalized groups of people is happening as we speak. You can’t undo the damage of removing small children from their parents. The codification of voter suppression and gerrymandering in our states and in our courts will change politics for decades. The damage to our standing in the world is real, and it will take time for our allies to trust that we won’t ever do this again. All of this, and a lot more, is very serious- and Kavanaugh and Gorsuch haven’t even over-turned Roe v. Wade and Griswold yet. The magnitude of the damage and pain isn’t even clear to us yet, even those of us who accept that it’s coming.

We don’t like to talk about it right now, but there will be a day after Trump. It feels wrong to consider while he hurts people, but we must. It’s not unlike the day after Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, JFK, Nixon, Reagan, or even Obama. While the impact may be felt for the rest of our lives, there will be a day not unlike the day after Hitler, Khan, Stalin, or any other historic strong man. Donald Trump is a fat man who hates exercise, loves indulging his desires, and spray tans too much- he won’t live forever. We will wake up in a world after Trump, God willing. We will have to move forward.

When we reach that day, the politics will change. Just 75 years after World War II, Germany is arguably the leader of the Western Alliance now, standing shoulder to shoulder with France. That would be the same France who’s Presidential runner-up was a hardline nationalist that reminds us all of Nazis. Japan, who we nuked in that war, is now a very close allied nation. That’s all slow moving stuff though. Bill Clinton won Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia, but 20 years later his wife was uncompetitive in any of them. In 2006, anti-Bush sentiment swept in a wave of suburban Democrats, who were all swept out in a hurry by 2010- and some of those districts became the backbone of Trump’s 2016 win. It might happen quickly, it might take decades, but the political alignment that shapes us now will change. Our history tells us that it will happen fast- and we may already be into the next re-alignment.

Part of the road to Trumpism is paved in a lack of emotional satisfaction some voters felt in the Obama age. In just two years since Trump’s election, we are seeing white collar suburban women put districts in play for Democrats that they haven’t won in a very long time. The Democratic Party is changing rapidly, even more so than the Republicans now, and trying to pump the breaks didn’t do much for leadership figures like Joe Crowley. While Trump’s GOP’s white nationalistic base is more middle aged and late Baby Boomers, the Democrats’ more ideological base is younger, and will be around for much longer. Many Democrats assume that is good- they’ll tell you “demographics are destiny,” but are they? The 2016 electorate was 70% white, and it will probably be 30-40 years before white voters are a minority. Even then, Democrats will have to deal with the issue of partisan sorting, where most of our voters are packed into deep blue, urban area districts that simply can’t build a majority in Congress. I’m not even considering the anti-voting rights court we’re likely to have for decades to come. Besides all of that- we’re assuming the current demographic voting trends will hold. Republicans were winning African-Americans 60 years ago. Latinos could be driven away from Democrats by abortion and other social issue differences, or even by some of their opposition to Socialism, which Democrats of some stripes are embracing. The Democratic Party is not likely to look the same in 2040 as it did in 2012, both demographically and policy wise. One could argue it already doesn’t.

It has been suggested by some folks that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the future face of the Democratic Party, even more so than a fellow young face like Joe Kennedy. Obviously there is a demographic case to be had on that account, but there’s an even bigger argument to be had on policy and on rhetoric. Ocasio calls herself a “Democratic Socialist,” while Kennedy’s grandfather made his reputation on Capitol Hill opposing them. No, she isn’t a Bolshevik Communist like the ones RFK opposed, but her embrace of the term Socialism suggests a more aggressive leftist ideology than the Democrats have had before. Ocasio is something radical, new, and different from the party’s history.

None of this can or should matter in 2018. We don’t have time for a fight between serious Democrats and radicals during an election cycle in which we’re quite literally fighting for the future of a huge cross-section of America. Some quixotic fight to stop Ocasio from winning is both a waste of time and counter-productive in that it takes resources away from swing-districts that we have to win. I guess that means we’ll have to endure her crazy tweets attacking Joe Crowley and Senator Duckworth, campaigning against great candidates in Kansas, and attacking incumbent Senators in Delaware with voting records that basically match their state. There is no time or energy that is currently available to contend with her or those who follow her- we don’t have resources to waste on vanity fights.

Some day soon though, these fights are going to be important though. Some day soon, the modus operandi of the Democratic Party will not be fighting Donald Trump, because he will be gone. The Democratic Party, not unlike in post-Bush 2009, will be left to pick up the broken pieces of a country that has been driven off a cliff by ignorant, irresponsible leadership. What that party looks like, sounds like, and behaves like will matter. If that party sounds like a rigid party of ideological nuts, we will have dramatically different results than if it doesn’t. Regardless of what Democrats would like to believe, all of the demographic and political shifts happening in our party are happening in less than ten states, and are not likely to be broad enough to change Congress or the electoral college for at least another generation, if not two. If we don’t understand that soon, and react accordingly, we are likely to face a similar situation to the Obama years, where our governing majority is short lived, and ends up being replaced by a far-right radical government.

We’re going to out-live the terrible Trump years. How well we do after that is pretty much entirely dependent on our ability to walk and chew gum now, so that we don’t fall victim to becoming a radical, out-of-step political movement when America does give us a chance to govern again. Frankly, that’s mighty inconvenient, and may even leave some folks on the outside, looking in.

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.