Major League Baseball took its annual mid-season break for the All-Star Game this week, but there was no break in the action in New Jersey’s 2009 campaign for governor.
Two days after throwing out the first pitch at the All-Star Game in St. Louis, President Barack Obama headed to New Jersey to campaign with Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine. And earlier in the week, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele visited the Garden State for an appearance with GOP challenger Chris Christie.
In political campaigns, the stakes are high and time is always short. A brief hiatus, such as baseball’s three-day All-Star break, appears – at least at first glance – to be unwise and impractical. But think about it for a moment.
Baseball takes a three-day break while teams are competing for first place, players are chasing records, and milestones are approaching – and it does not diminish interest in the sport or the intensity of competition. In fact, teams, players and fans can be re-energized by the break, making for a more exciting second half of the season.
The All-Star break does something else for baseball that would benefit politicians: It humanizes the players. True, they are superstars with tremendous physical skills, but we also see how much they are just like us. Like fans, they take pictures and videos of the players and festivities. We see them with their wives and children (and in some cases, parents) at events such as the All-Star Red Carpet Parade and the Home Run Derby. And when they meet the President of the United States, their faces exude the same sense of excitement, nervousness and honor that any American would display.
Politicians often try to paint a similar picture. They strive to humanize themselves because they know there is a value to making voters feel that they are just like them. As Roland Barthes wrote in an essay about photos used by politicians: “A photograph is a mirror, what we are asked to read is the familiar, the known; it offers to the voter his own likeness, but clarified, exalted, superbly elevated into a type. This glorification is in fact the very definition of the photogenic: the voter is at once expressed and heroized, he is invited to elect himself.”
Another significant occurrence that takes place during the All-Star break is the opportunity to see that athletes who are fierce competitors throughout the season can actually appreciate and respect each other’s talents, and work together as a team toward a common goal. Political campaigns, by their nature, rarely allow for such dynamics. Instead, opponents are attacked and demonized in an effort to obtain victory at the polls.
Despite any benefits that may accrue if politicians followed baseball’s lead and took a short mid-campaign break, chances are slim that it will ever happen. But we do have some history that lends additional support to the concept.
After the 9/ll terrorist attacks, politicians – including New Jersey’s gubernatorial candidates – put their campaigns on hold. When they did resume, the tenor was more civil and the debate was more substantive than personal. Granted this was reflective of the mood of the nation at that time, but the different view we saw of the candidates was much like the different view we see of baseball players during the All-Star break.
We experienced a similar moment last year after popular TV journalist Tim Russert passed away during the presidential campaign. For one day during the hotly contested race, Barack Obama and John McCain were not rivals competing for the highest office in the nation. Instead, at Russert’s funeral at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., they sat side by side, two of many people who had come to pay their last respects to a man they all admired.
Will we see any similar camaraderie in New Jersey during this year’s governor’s race? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean we should refrain from taking inspiration from baseball. As the president said before Tuesday’s All-Star game, “As a sport, baseball has always embodied the values that make America great – hard work, leadership, passion and teamwork.”
Indeed, these are traits that can lead to success on the ball field, on the campaign trail and in virtually all aspects of our lives.
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