Jazz, Baseball, Politics and the Beltway Blues: Our American Dialogue, Part II

Jazz, Baseball, Politics and the Beltway Blues: Our American Dialogue, Part II
Carl L. Hager By

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Ref: How Life Imitates the World Series (Penguin, 1983) by Thomas Boswell

Well, that's over.

$2.6 billion later, the U.S. presidential election is history. No more polls, no more red state / blue state electoral maps, no more trash-talking. Right on its heels, the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) announced the results of their voting for the league MVPs, Cy Young and other annual awards, and then issued the list of 2013's Hall of Fame candidates, which—gasp—includes known users of PEDs... here comes the hand-wringing. The only front-page election news left in 2012 will be the Grammy nominations' clamorous weeks of attendant insults, praises, rants and double takes, as voting members of NARAS publicly second-guess or dismiss the messy-but-colorful politics of their peer-review version of democracy ... while privately acknowledging the talent and hard work that all the artists have gone through as they try to make a buck with recorded music.

The lesser page-two items between now and New Year's will just be the usual pot-stirring lists and predictions, speculations on everything from the December 21st deadline for the End of Mayan Civilization As We Know It to the breathless blow-by-blow accounts of each dare and double-dare in the Capitol Hill game of chicken, while the ship of state is sailed over the cliff into fiscal year 2013 ... you've heard it before.

This season's real October Surprise wasn't Hurricane Sandy (surprise is hardly the word), nor the release of Gary Golio's terrific Spirit Seeker (Clarion)—a slender, beautifully illustrated volume about John Coltrane, ostensibly written for children, and a certain ASCAP Deems Taylor candidate—it was that, despite being held to a scant six runs in the World Series, the toothless Detroit Tigers managed to play an extra inning before being mercifully swept by the San Francisco Giants.

You think I jest?

Yes, I jest. Gallows humor.

Politicians really ought to listen to more jazz and lighten up. It could help them understand Americans in a way that they obviously do not. For precisely the same reason, they should also watch more baseball. In the unlikely event they are unable to snag a last-minute luxury box from a lobbyist, they could do what the rest of us do and watch it on television. Or maybe even combine the two activities—watch the local Mudville Nine broadcast with the sound muted, and listen to Dizzy Gillespie at the same time.

The defibrillator paddles of jazz and baseball could undoubtedly get those tickers ticking pretty hard, but in time would soothe their savage breasts as they deal with the harsher realities of Western Civilization. Leaning back and listening to Thelonious Monk play "Hackensack" might un-furrow their worried brows a little, give them a purposeful distraction as they ponder the intricacies of minor-league affiliations and what on earth educator/historian Jacques Barzun (whose own October Surprise was dying at age 104, for those of you keeping scorecards at home) really meant by his radical admonition to understand baseball—that other indigenous art form to which politicians pay such loving lip service—in their attempt to understand America.

They might gain a little perspective. After hearing the Count Basie Orchestra's silken collaboration with Ella Fitzgerald's scatting or Frank Sinatra's crooning, the Mitch McConnells and Harry Reids of the world might start to relax and listen to each other, conceivably learning to appreciate and even support someone else's viewpoint. Not to compromise with it, but to accommodate it. Statesmanship isn't so much a question of finding a middle ground as it is of listening to the other person's viewpoint well enough to actually understand it—and in a representative democracy, accepting the right and duty of that elected official to voice it.

The Democrat and Republican leadership both understand this country's big problems fairly well and often get a lot right. But neither can be trusted without the balancing influence of the other, especially with the additional hedge of a vocal third party's nagging to help keep them in line. The yin and yang of what comes through a democracy's front door is a bitch—no matter what it is, no matter how much you like it, too much of anything can make you sick. Which is the very practical reason that British politician/historian Sir John Acton, a 19th century champion of America's experiment in democracy, was led to write that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."


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