Joe Conason’s Journal

A Labor Day gift from baseball players. Plus, how the Democrats become a majority party, Jeb Bush settles a voting rights suit in Florida and Colorado gets rocky for a GOP incumbent.


Cheers, Not Boos
Let’s hope that the player reps will hear shouts of congratulation at tonight’s baseball games rather than disrespect. Now that a strike has been averted, it is clear that the union, rather than the owners, offered the concessions and ideas that produced an agreement at deadline. Few fans probably understand how grueling and difficult labor negotiations like these can be. The union’s leaders and lawyers deserve ungrudging gratitude.

Majority Report
Last week I mentioned “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira. I want to expand on that brief recommendation. This book’s importance lies not only in the authors’ close analysis of state and regional voting patterns and their creative approach to the demographic, economic and cultural changes that influence those patterns. Those opening chapters are convincing and very useful. But it is in the second half, which recounts the declining and rising fortunes of the Democratic Party over the past two decades, that the authors provide a provocative guide to the future of progressive politics. It is both a testament to the legacy of the ’60s and an obituary for the factional, sectarian and extremist tendencies that have so often divided (and deluded) Democrats and progressive independents since then.

Pulling together the same ideological strands Bill Clinton used to weave his electoral coalition, Judis and Teixeira argue for a “progressive centrism” founded on active government, economic opportunity, social liberalism and scientific advancement. Such are the parameters they believe will define a majority party of white-collar employees, blue-collar workers, minorities and women, based in the growing “ideopolis” counties where the new economy predominates.

Their narrative is not without flaws, particularly when they deal with the recent past. In accounting for the 2000 election debacle, for instance, the authors simply ignore the manifest media bias against Al Gore. And they place excessive credence in Gore’s supposed need to distance himself from the scandal-ridden Clinton. The post-election polling data they cite actually suggests a very different perspective; far more voters disdained Gore for the poor personal image of him created by the media than for “being too close to Bill Clinton.” Still, the authors correctly dismiss the fashionable notion that Gore’s campaign message was “too populist.” They lean somewhat to the left of the party’s current center of gravity.

Some readers will surely find the authors’ advocacy of “progressive centrism” too centrist and insufficiently progressive. On certain issues such as capital punishment and the “drug war,” I’d agree. The debate is far from over. I also agree, however, with their central conclusion: that Democrats and independent progressives require a “new synthesis” of policies and ideals that can unite the party’s old base among white working class and minority families with the college-educated professionals of the new economy. Lacking that inspiration, clueless Democrats will tail after bankrupt Republicans while more and more citizens decide that democracy isn’t worth the trouble.

I’ll be printing excerpts of reviews and reactions from other readers.
[3:30 p.m. PDT, Aug. 31, 2002]

Jeb’s Surrender
Today, attorneys representing the NAACP and the state of Florida will file settlement papers in the landmark lawsuit over disenfranchisement of black voters on Election Day 2000. Terms were not disclosed when the capitulation of the (Jeb) Bush administration was initially reported Tuesday, but counties that previously settled with the NAACP agreed to major changes in voter registration, voter-roll maintenance and polling practices.

Nervous over recent bad publicity and the increasing possibility that he will have to face Bill McBride rather than Janet Reno in November, Jeb thus avoids an embarrassing trial. Anyone obsessed with Jeb’s fate — and isn’t everyone who cares about democracy? — should consult this site, which constantly updates news on the Florida governor’s race.

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Wayne’s (Shrinking) World
Languishing around 43 percent in the polls may mean impending retirement for Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, who is now near the top of the GOP’s endangered incumbents list. Allard still leads his opponent, former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland — but nearly a quarter of voters in recent polls were undecided.

Cubs Mea Culpa
Technical changes may result in today’s journal being posted a bit later than usual. That’s fine, however, because I’ve been coping with a small flood of corrective mail. The first to let me know what a serious error I’d committed in yesterday’s second entry on baseball was a close friend and serious sports fan. His style was pithy: “Good thing you led with how little you know. Cubs were owned by Wrigley gum family (hence Wrigley Field), now ChicagoTrib (which also owns WGN TV, which broadcasts Cubs). Jerry Reinsdorf was the reviled owner of the White Sox. Different league.”

Others were very kind, considering the circumstances (except for the guy who addressed me as “Dummy” and advised, “Don’t talk about things you don’t know about!”).

One reader administered a short geography lesson: “As bad as things get for us die-hard Cubs fans, we at least don’t have to deal with Devil incarnate Jerry Reinsdorf. That is left to our Southside loser/White-Sox-fan cousins south of Roosevelt Road. We on the Northside have the pleasure of dealing with the heartless/soulless Tribune Corporation.”

A stadium neighbor took a more benign view: “They are only reviled by Wrigleyville neighbors trying to find a parking spot somewhere near home on game days.” Another admitted that the Cubs “have many faults, too numerous to mention. But they are not owned by the Great Satan.”

An attorney at a Chicago law firm politely summed up the view of many White Sox fans when he wrote of Reinsdorf’s owning their team, “I wish I could say that he does not.” A Sox fan from Springfield expressed roughly the same sentiment: “It may not mean much to the rest of the country but if you are a longtime White Sox fan as I am, you want to retain the right to hate your team’s owner.”

Not everybody loved either Windy City club, but nobody defended the Sox owner. One identified him as the vandal “who tore down old Comiskey Park. Even a Cubs-hater like me doesn’t think they deserve to be associated with Jerry Reinsdorf.”

Presumably more helpful messages are on the way about this flub. I should have remembered that the Tribune owns the beleaguered Cubs, because they used to own the Daily News in my hometown, and back then I knew a lot about the controversial company. Please be assured that I won’t forget these simple facts again.
[8:45 a.m. PDT, Aug. 30, 2002]

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