A Field of Memes

Living in a place without a real spring, I have to
simulate the vernal equinox in my mind through an annual ritual of
baseball books.

Right now I'm reading Paul Dickson's The Unwritten Rules of Baseball - an
exploration of
the game's "time-honored" unofficial code of conduct. Rules
like: never say "no-hitter" out loud when a pitcher is in the
middle of throwing one and if there's an altercation on the field, both
dugouts must join the fray.

Maybe it's ADD or my petty obsession with metaphors
but reading Dickson's book got me thinking about one of baseball's
metaphorical cousins, sending me on a fruitless search for The Book on
unwritten rules of American politics.

I found a 1948 essay under that title published in Harper's Magazine.
came across academic papers with references to "unwritten"
political rules and fished out a few oldie-but-goodies from the stacks
of my
library. If you have a weak
candidate and
weak platform, wrap yourself up in the American flag and talk about the
(Republican "kingmaker" Matthew Quay)
, for example -
clearly, still very much a part of the GOP playbook.

But I couldn't find the encyclopedic compendium
that I figured just had
to be out
there. Call me impatient but I decided to take another well-known
rule - if you want to get something done, do it yourself - and see if I
turn it on its head. If you want to get something done, get others

So, how about a little teamwork? Let's co-write a
book that not only commits the unwritten rules of politics to writing,
answers the questions: When rules come into conflict, which ones carry
the most
weight? And who or what do these rules ultimately serve? Maybe not a
best-seller but it might put us in the game. Politics isn't supposed to
be a spectator sport. Fortunately, you don't have to be Yogi Berra or
Weber to intuit the unwritten rules. You just need a good eye.

The book's editors would have to debate which
rule would be listed first, but if it was up to me Rule #1 would be: At least since
Reagan, a "good" politician,
according to The
Establishment, must always govern from an amorphous "center."

Following the rule, Bush was marketed as a
"uniter" and Obama was sold as "post partisan." And
like many of the unwritten rules of baseball, this rule extends into the
box, reinforcing the longtime media love affair with
"bipartisanship" and an either/or political analysis that misleadingly
assumes there are only two sides to every issue. If you're not a conservative, you're a
liberal. If you're
not on the right or left, you're in the center (where the good
politicians and media outlets reside). If you don't back Republicans,
must be a Democrat or a centrist Independent, and if not, you're one of
the loonies

If the "center" rule is Rule
1, Rule 1a)
would have to say
something about "fiscal conservatism," which, we're told, all
centrists share in common, yielding: if
not a "fiscal conservative," you're a typical
"tax-and-spend liberal" and probably a closet

Rule 1b) Under
banner of "fiscal conservatism,"
it's perfectly reasonable to angrily debate the cost of life-sustaining
government-regulated health care. But never question the life-sapping
budget, no matter what the cost or how much of the U.S. economy is in
the hands of
"big government" defense programs.

The biggest defense budget in history - $200 billion
more than will be doled out for Medicare and $500 billion more than what
be spent on Medicaid - and not one town hall meeting? Throw in
expenditures not included in the official DoD account and we're talking
close to a trillion dollar budget and not a single "deficit hawk"
on the talk show circuit offering somber warnings about "out of
control" spending?

Appropriately, it was Hall of Fame pitcher and now
Republican Sen. Jim Bunning who gave us the most recent example of the
fiscal conservative rule coming into play. The distinguished gentlemen
from Kentucky single-handedly
held up paying federal employees to make a point about the official
go Congressional budget rule.

Burning hot in the GOP and emanating throughout the
Democratic Party, this resurgence of "fiscal conservatism" prompted
Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and former advisor to Reagan,
father Bush,
and Ron Paul to note the stunning hypocrisy.

"As far as I am concerned, any Republican who
voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything
Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt," Bartlett
wrote in Forbes recently.

If you're wondering, don't: Bunning voted
for the unfunded drug benefit even as he talks of being a fiscal
watchdog of
the majority party, especially as Democrats move on to jobs legislation.

"I'll be watching them closely," he
told the Washington Independent,
checking off the hypocrites one by one."

A hypocrite tracking hypocrisy? That's how they
play ball on this field of memes.

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