Friday, October 17, 2008

Take Me Out to the Debate

Four years ago, I asked a friend a pointed question: “Which do you think would be worse, the Red Sox defeating the Yankees in the playoffs, or George Bush defeating John Kerry?” His response was simple: Let’s not take our baseball too seriously here.

He was right. I didn’t get either of the victories I was looking for in 2004, but it was only the latter that made a difference. Four years later, I don’t have the luxury of rooting for the Yankees in the playoffs this season. But I do have my vote, and in October 2008 the American presidential race is really the only game of consequence.

As I watched the final presidential debate Wednesday night, I found myself reflecting on the emotions I’ve felt while watching these contests. This year, I find myself deeply invested in one ticket, as I believe Senators Obama and Biden are clearly the more qualified candidates. With that in mind, I’ve found my body language during these debates to be strikingly similar to the behavior I show during Yankees playoff games.

I can’t sit still. I roam from room to room, cleaning the house while listening to their words. I stop and watch one of them answer a question, but when the back-and-forth gets going, my heart races some more. I move about the house again, making my lunch for the next day or getting my clothes ready. In Wednesday’s final debate, with Obama riding high in the polls, I felt as though I were watching Mariano Rivera pitch the Yankees through the ninth inning, trying to hold onto that lead by staying cool under pressure. Even so, that pressure was too much to take through the constricted medium of a television set.

I watched the CNN Ohio voters give their immediate reactions to the words in the debate, and it reminded me of the scrolling ticker at the bottom of a sports event. I listened to the political pundits speak after the debates, and their partisan bickering seemed as predictable as the goofy back-slapping in modern postgame sports desks. Even so, I found myself glued to the post-debate analysis, even though I knew what was going to be said – just as I find myself watching those postgame playoff interviews, even when I know players will give the standard responses. I even watched replays of key moments in the debates, just as I turn to SportsCenter after a big game to see the postgame highlights.

There are similarities between these Fall Classics, all right. But there are differences, too. The thing about a baseball game is that the fan at home has no impact whatsoever on whether the favorite team wins or loses. But democracy is different; the candidates’ fans don’t have to sit idly. So I’ve made my donation. I’ve got my lawn sign and car magnet. I’ve helped a half-dozen people register to vote. I’m thinking about taking a drive to Pennsylvania or spending a few hours on the phone with voters in North Carolina.

It’s the late innings, and my candidate needs to seal the deal. I’m willing to answer the call. Mariano Rivera doesn’t need me to do that.