Thursday, June 15, 2017

Political ugliness bites back violently at the pols’ own partisan derrieres

We’ve developed an ugly underside to our politics – one that is entrenched in the partisanship that can prevent anything from occurring. And now that ugliness is snapping at the people who some might say have caused it to exist.
With the Nationals in New York to play the Mets, Nationals Park was to be taken over Thursday by the Capitol Hill crowd for their annual congressional baseball game for bragging rights. And charity, of course.

I’m referring to the incident early Wednesday in which a man from one of those Illinois towns near St. Louis went to Washington, D.C., showed up at a practice that congressional Republicans were having at a suburban park prior to their scheduled Thursday baseball game against the Democrats, and began firing gunshots at them.

THE BIG BLOW to this story is that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who was in the infield at the time, took a bullet to the hip. A congressional staff member at the scene also was shot.
Two Capitol police officers who were assigned to protect Scalise also were wounded, but one of them managed to return gunfire – ultimately striking and killing the gunman.

What I find sad about the incident is that the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity (played annually since 1909) is one of the few moments in recent years where Republicans and Democrats are capable of behaving civilly toward each other.

Perhaps it’s something about the mutual experience of the politicos donning the baseball uniforms of their home cities (I still remember the sight of former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., trying to look all refined and dandy in a form-fitting Chicago White Sox uniform, and then-Rep. Rod Blagojevich looking kind of schlumpy in Chicago Cubbie blue) and taking the field, pretending that they’re still youthful and athletic and capable of doing great things on the ball field.
SCALISE: Recovery is expected

OR MAYBE IT’S the fact that they get to do this in a “big league” ballpark, Nationals Park, where for one day they assert their niche as the most important people in the District of Columbia.

But for whatever reason, Thursday night would have been an occasion on which the nastiness of Republicans feeling the need to stick it to their Dem colleagues in Congress would have been put aside.

The focus would have been on who could show off the mightiest swing, throw the hardest, or execute a perfect squeeze bunt to catch the other side off guard (and create the illusions in their own mind about how they could have been big leaguers, IF ONLY they hadn’t been distracted by the desire to run for office).

Which is what led the Republicans who planned to take the field on Thursday to gather for an early morning practice – trying to refine athletic skills they lost many years ago and probably never really had in the first place.
Bunning the ballplayer later became Kentucky congressman

INSTEAD, IT MADE those GOPers potential targets to a man who may have been motivated by his contempt for the hostility being spewed by these same political people.

The Washington Post reported that the gunman had a Facebook page indicating he was a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential aspirations, but was more accurately described as a critic of President Donald Trump – calling him a “traitor,” amongst other things. While the Belleville News-Democrat reported on the 18 "letters to the editor" he had written that they had published, where he ranted about a corrupt tax system that he said Republicans created and Democrats were too weak to challenge.

Of course, it was Trump who elevated the level of hostile rhetoric as part of his own campaign strategy to get himself elected president; not caring how much it offended the real majority of our society.

Now, we have to figure out if one of those offended decided to carry out an expression of his anger against the Republican Party that enables Trump to have political power?

WE’LL NEVER KNOW definitively what motivated this incident, since it appears the only casualty of Wednesday’s gunplay on the baseball field is the gunman himself – Scalise bled from his gunshot wounds but is expected to survive. He even got a statement from Trump himself, referring to Scalise as “a patriot” for taking a bullet to the hip.
Was last year's Democratic team a fine batch of athletic specimens, or a baggy batch of pseudo-ballplayers? The only area Dem to be on this year's team is Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., of South Bend, while the Republican team would include Illinoisans John Shimkus of Collinsville, Darin LaHood of Peoria and Rodney Davis of Taylorville.
Oddly enough, the man who was the gunman’s congressional representative, John Shimkus of Collinsville, is amongst those pols playing for the Republican team, but he was absent from practice – thereby sparing himself any threat of injury.

As I was writing this commentary, there was speculation that the ballgame, a Capitol tradition, would be cancelled. Officials ultimately decided to play anyway, and a part of me is glad. This is one of the few times the political parties come together, and anything that encourages such thought is a plus.

And while it might be wishful thinking on my part, perhaps such an ugly outburst is what it will take to get some people to stop thinking so harshly in Dem vs. GOP terms and realize the need for us all to work as one for the betterment of the nation.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I always preferred the Springfield, Ill., take on this game, where our legislators play softball and the teams are the Illinois House vs. the state Senate. Dems and GOPers get mixed, but the desire of senators to put their junior colleagues in their place was just as intense when the two sides last played May 19.

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