I don’t think I really got those Saturday Night Live jokes about Red Sox fans and their rabid hatred for the Yankees until my first seventh inning at Fenway. The team’s playoff ambitions were already dashed, but as the game dragged on and concessionaires pulled the taps on bleacher beer, the faces around me began to harden with purpose. Native Bostonians in every corner of the stadium—from toddlers just learning to mispronounce the Boston “r” to die-hard 40-somethings escaping their wives—pulled together spontaneously to chant “Yankees Suck” for the rest of the game. Their torrent of hatred and spittle poured over both dugouts. Down on the field, the opposing players looked amused.
The Rex Sox were playing the Baltimore Orioles that day, two years ago now. I’m sure that no one there would remember who won.
Boston fans, the most loyal in baseball, depend on the Yankees to give meaning to their dismal history and relevance to their perennial irrelevance in the post-season. If only those damn Yankees had not stolen their great Bambino, according to Red Sox mythology, Boston would now be the envy of baseball. Were it not for those high-nosed moneybags in New York disrupting destiny, the Red Sox would drive the bandwagon that every young fan wants to ride.
Never mind that the Sox have managed only nine playoff appearances since 1918, their last World Series victory, while the Yankees have won 26 titles. Red Sox fans love “Nomah” and the boys, pathological choking and all, and never really blame them when they lose. They expect defeat by default. Should Boston beat the A’s tonight and face off against the moneyed establishment in the next round of the playoffs, the moaning establishment is already prepared for a long off-season to stew over their eventual loss. Even post-season perfection cannot cure the Curse of the Bambino, after all, and spite and resignation work wonders to dampen the thud of mediocrity.
I wish it were merely cute coincidence that the Democrats chose Boston to host their national convention next year, before the Republicans managed a convention coup in the Yankees’—and Sept. 11’s—backyard. But fate, I like to think, intended a wakeup call for the defeatist Dems: shake off the Curse of bin Laden while you can, before home for you becomes a ghetto of idle opposition.
Treason, lies and recession have sheltered Democrats from the bitter realization that they, like the Red Sox, have grown to depend on their evil other—the axis of Bush, Rove and Fox News—for their identity and raison d’être. Every boast that backfires, every crony that cheats and every Iraqi that blows himself up arouses a bitter, Bostonian satisfaction in Democratic hearts. Democrats have adopted that corrosive combination of helplessness and hopelessness that finds as much delight in an epic Yankee loss in Game 7 of the World Series, back in 2001, as in the Patriots’ first-ever Superbowl victory that same season.
Just as Bostonians enjoyed the Diamondbacks’ Yankee-slaying as if it were their own, nearly every Democratic victory since 9/11 has been vicarious. Bush’s recent unraveling—thanks to Reagan-era budget deficits, Iraqi WMD deficits and a deficit of White House candor in response to a traitor within its ranks—has brought the Democrats a tremendous opportunity they did nothing to earn.
No wonder neocon sharks smell blood in a pool of Democrats who would rather root against Yankee Republicans than extol their own virtues. It’s early in the campaign, yes, too early to expect Democratic hopefuls to put forward clear platforms. But it’s not too early to lambaste them for their craven concessions to political expediency.
Before their campaigns began, the field of Democratic at-least-I’m-nots huffed and stammered each time Bush cut taxes for the rich, baffled at the nerve of a blue-blooded Yalie to pass off opportunism as economic stimulus. But now that Red Sox Democrats want to win some red states, their candidates dare not repeal all of those tax cuts, even though a stalled economy and cash-starved social programs make that the obvious move.
Every hopeful but Dean either voted to invade Iraq or supported aggressive regime change as long as the U.N. tagged along. Multilateral might, they seem to think, would have made war right. And every insurgent has spun with the subtlety of a pre-teen ballerina around the question of how to clean up the Middle East mess—even Dean, whose “Beantown is Deantown” placards, on display during his Copley Square speech two weeks ago, have already sloganeered him into my ominous Boston analogy.
If we step out of Bush’s 1984 for a moment—both from his doublespeak and his Reaganism—we Democrats might remember the days before Bush’s Yankee-esque steamroller, when our party had an independent identity. In those days, even with Clinton at the helm, Democrats stood for something other than opposition. Our leadership occasionally disregarded—nay, even influenced—opinion polls, where today we struggle just to react to them.
We once hawked our inner dove and waxed sensitive about internationalism, religious toleration and cooperative engagement. We resisted missile shields and proto-authoritarian conformity. And, sometimes, we forced voters to see the link between taxes and services, between economic stagnation and the Iraq quagmire and between present sacrifice and future rewards.
Bush can no longer bench his opponents and gag dissent, but Democrats have been slow to wake from their post-Sept. 11 hibernation. They continue to wallow in Bostonian fatalism, even though they have stumbled into an unprecedented opportunity. A New York Times poll released Friday reported that Bush’s manipulation machine has lost its mojo, and that if elections were held today, the eventual Democratic candidate would finish neck-and-neck with Bush.
Just as the Red Sox never expected to reach the post-season this year, the Democrats are shocked and awed that they might be competitive in the presidential playoffs. But while the Red Sox should always expect to lose, and every bitter Bostonian knows it, Democrats have a chance now to shake off their curse. Bush has lost home field advantage, and Democrats no longer have to compete in his field of dreams, where the strike zone expands with each apocalyptic speech and where America’s legendary opponents—that’s you guys, Osama and Saddam—are allowed to vanish the moment they walk off the field.
The Democratic contenders face a full count from the Evil Empire in the White House, with Bush on the mound and regime change at stake. Rather than hope for a walk and watch the called third strike, as they have now for 26 months, Democrats need only size up the trite Republican pitch spinning their way—and come up swinging.
Blake Jennelle ’04 is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.