The 1962 Mets were awful, going 40-120. They were so bad that Jimmy Breslin wrote a classic baseball book, Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, describing manager Casey Stengel’s exasperation at his Amazin’ Mets. In New York Baseball terms, the Mets were the Stupid Team, committing 210 errors and giving up 948 runs, 137 of them unearned. The Yankees, by contrast, continued to be the Evil Team, winning another World Series, 4-3 over the Giants.
One gets the sense that, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” is the constant groan of the Republican managers in the stands of national politics these days. Obama continues to chug along, reinterpreting or flat-out ignoring the law, Congress seemingly powerless to stop him. Indeed, this Republican Congress seems to go along with his plans with dismaying regularity. It’s understood that it would require 2/3 vote to overcome a veto, but they could at least put the Democrats on record as opposing common-sense ideas, force them to take some uncomfortable votes, and set the table for the eventual nominee with some vetos to complain about. And confirming Loretta Lynch, on top of it.
Nevertheless, sometimes there’s more going on than a simple vote. Steve Heyward over at Powerline, in a couple of posts, nicely dissects Mitch McConnell’s strategy regarding the execrable Export-Import Bank. A powerful symbol of cronyism, it’s also know as the Bank of Boeing, since Boeing alone typically receives about 80% of its benefits. It wasn’t tied to any other funding legislation. It wasn’t a piece of some other appropriations or authorizations bill. Killing it didn’t require a special vote. It just required doing nothing. Which, shockingly, Congress did.
Killing it didn’t require a special vote. Keeping it alive did. And a special vote is just what Mitch McConnell organized, an amendment tacked onto an appropriations bill. It passed overwhelmingly, and was sent to the House, where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California pronounced it DOA. The Senate will take up the House version of the appropriations bill after the August recess, without the ExIm Bank.
It should have been apparent that this was set up beforehand, in order to give cover to Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. Boeing is headquartered in Chicago. Kirk will be in a tight re-election race, and it would be nice to keep the Senate. Nevertheless, the Republican grassroots, frustrated at so many other capitulations, screamed that McConnell was in the pocket of the cronies, and no better than the Democrats. In fact, he had just managed to kill the bank while letting a vulnerable Senator take credit for trying to save it. And yes, while people are aware of that, what would change the outcome is a change in the House, not the Senate, and there are probably few Republican pick-ups to be had in Chicago at this point.
Instead of recognizing that this was a win disguised as a loss, too many of the Republican peanut gallery assumed McConnell was actually trying to throw the game. Personally, I think McConnell and Boehner have been way too easy, and way less aggressive than they need to be. They’ve missed opportunities to pick winnable fights, put telegenic and capable spokesmen out there to make the case, and force the Democrats to take unpopular and irresponsible positions. And who knows but that the crying over the ExIm Bank doesn’t actually give additional cover to McConnell’s gambit.
But we should also look at the long game sometimes. McConnell didn’t get where he is by really being stupid. And people are only going to elect a Republican president if they think the party is serious about governing. (That last is why I would love to see Sen. Mike Lee of Utah be the Majority Leader in 2017.) There’s plenty of stuff going on at the committee level where the Democrats and Obama don’t get their way. Good luck, for instance, getting any more judges through. There won’t be any more major initiatives, at least not legal ones. And they are planning on passing a bill for Obama to veto that would start to reclaim some of the regulatory authority that Congress has given up over the years. Ultimately, though, this just emphasizes the need for a Republican president, and one who’s energetic, and willing to devolve power back to Congress and to the states, which won’t be an easy task.
Sometimes, it’s not the leadership, but the party they’re trying to lead, who can’t play this game.