Hillary Clinton, Pitching for the Cubs?

Hillary Clinton, Pitching for the Cubs?
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Two political crises are fast approaching. One would be a very unpopular figure soon to inherit the American presidency. He or she will be tasked with trying to heal a deep and bitter partisan divide that shows no signs of calming.

The other great leadership challenge: what to do about the Chicago Cubs? Allow me to explain.

In the midst of a presidential election that’s been an affront to common sense and conventional wisdom, something even more astounding soon may occur in the realm of major-league baseball: the Cubbies ending their run of 108 years without a World Series championship.

In White House terms, just how long ago was October 14, 1908, the day the Cubs clinched their last title? It came 20 days before William Howard Taft’s victory over William Jennings Bryan in the race to become America’s 27th president. Lyndon Johnson was a 7-week-old infant. None of the past eight presidents – not to mention John F. Kennedy – had yet to enter the world.

How could such a celebratory moment in professional sports cause political hardship? Ask President Obama. If the Cubs qualify for the Fall Classic, America’s most prominent Chicagoan may feel obligated to soft-toss the first pitch at Wrigley Field, which is nestled on Chicago’s North Side.

However, Obama made his political bones on the South Side of Chicago, serving that part of the city as a state senator before moving on to the U.S. Senate and his very rapid succession to the presidency. Besides, the man’s a White Sox fan (here’s video evidence). What happens if he chooses to don a Chisox cap, as he did at the Washington Nationals home opener back in 2010, when he takes the field at Wrigley?

But if you think Obama’s Cubs’ politics are messy, consider what Hillary Clinton has to navigate should the North Siders end their World Series dry spell.

Once upon a time, in a vanilla middle-of-America childhood she likes to invoke on the campaign trail, Hillary Dorothy Rodham, raised in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, was a Cubs loyalist. As first lady, Mrs. Clinton not only talked the Cubs’ talk, but also walked the walk. She wore the blue “C” cap while strolling on the White House lawn, threw out the first pitch at Wrigley, crooned with Harry Carey during the seventh-inning stretch, and dined with Ernie Banks at the Billy Goat Tavern.

Hillary not only invited Sammy Sosa to sit next to her at a State of the Union Address, but also joined him in his native Dominican Republican to help in disaster relief. Then, along came opportunism enlightenment in the form of the New York Yankees.

In June 1999, the president and first lady welcomed the defending-champion Yankees to the White House. Mrs. Clinton donned the signature navy-blue cap with an interlocking “NY” logo . . . just days after announcing she was forming an exploratory committee to run for a New York seat in the U.S. Senate. Talk about a good political marriage: Hillary breezed to not one but two Senate wins; the Bronx Bombers collected four World Series rings during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Like many a subject associated with Hillary Clinton, baseball loyalty has become a tugging rope. Her critics slammed her a panderer. Her defenders tugged back with photos of the future senator wearing a Yankees hat in 1992. Taking Hillary cynicism to a new level in 2016: the Cubs’ may be the fashionable label, but the more pragmatic choice at this point would be the Cleveland Indians, the only one of baseball’s 10 playoff teams to hail from a swing state.

How will Clinton handle the Cubs’ success, assuming the team doesn’t stumble in the earlier playoff rounds?

The political impulse would be to the ride the bandwagon, as did then-Democratic nominee John Kerry when he latched on to his beloved Boston Red Sox during their improbable postseason run in 2004. The problem was that the gaffe-prone Kerry didn’t quite have the team’s roster right. And he was only half-right about ending the Red Sox’s fabled curse. In politics, as in baseball, karma is sometimes cruel.

Let’s assume that this year’s Democratic presidential nominee opts not to drop by Wrigley Field if it plays host to the World Series. But should both Hillary and the Cubs win it all this fall, how would she handle the team’s obligatory visit to the White House the following summer?

Clinton could fall into the same habit that’s plagued her over the years and deny any past inconsistencies. All that will achieve is a slew of congressional inquiries by outraged House Republicans, maybe an FBI investigation and scads of conservative media condemnation.

Or, Clinton could take a page from the Obama playbook and keep wearing that Yankees cap – regardless of what ballpark she’s visiting.

Here’s hoping that, should she achieve victory in November, it’s a clean slate for Hillary Clinton. That includes owning up to some bad long-term judgment for showing a lack of institutional confidence in her beloved Cubbies. It won’t spark economic growth or make America any safer. But it might free the sport of baseball from being treated as yet another political football.

Talk about making America great again.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow who follows California and national politics. He can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.


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