Watch just one full day — virtually any day — of the warp-speed motion and commotion along our 2016 presidential campaign trail and you will surely find yourself thinking like the Old Professor himself, Casey Stengel.
Although no professor of political science, Stengel deserves our celebration today for having gifted us with the one bit of political punditry that encapsulates all we are eye-witnessing in this campaign that is unlike anything America has ever seen. Stengel’s astute analysis occurred not during the gig that made him a legend in his old age, back when he led his starry New York Yankees to World Series championships in just about every damn year of the 1950s (at least as one then-young fan of the always-lowly Chicago Cubs recalls it). No, the Old Professor’s finest gift to us came after the Yankees had so rudely retired him, which caused him to sign on to manage the new team that was being created across the river — the New York Mets.
After watching his collection of cast-offs and un-readies misplay their first season, Stengel was celebrated by writer Jimmy Breslin, for an interrogatory observation (sort of spoken by Stengel with my pal Breslin’s literary massaging) that became the title of his funny book on that hapless 1962 season. Now it has become the perfect way to sum up the campaign we are enduring:
“Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”
Some days it’s Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. Other days it’s the Trumpsters vs. the Clintonites. (Did they all arrive in motorcades of clown cars?)
We are watching one candidate who has spent the year making news by making accusations that are deplorable, racist, rude, obscene and untrue. And another candidate who decided to make news in a deplorably inept way by insulting “half” of her opponent’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” What she did was insult many Americans who are genuinely and understandably mad as hell at politicians who aren’t working to solve their problems — and who might even have been hers to win. Until she deplored them.
We are watching one candidate who has flat-out refused to make available any of his income tax records — the first major party presidential nominee in modern history to ask us to trust on blind faith that he is not lying about where he has made his alleged billions of dollars. And another who has allowed Americans to see decades of tax records — but who then abandoned the high ground of transparency by deciding to cover-up the fact that she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She might have succeeded in her translucency (see also: opaque concealment) except for a citizen with a smartphone who recorded her collapsing while leaving a 9/11 ceremony.
And while we are at it, we must also note the other category of players who too often seem unable to properly play this game: my news media colleagues whose job is to cover all that is happening and tell us all we need to know.
So on Tuesday, they were there to cover all that was being said (see also: spoon-fed) to the public when House Republicans met with their party’s vice presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who then repeated his team’s campaign ohm about the need to “revive the American economy” and that “This literally is a choice between whether we’re going to continue to go downhill to a weaker America at home and abroad.”
But wait: Over at the U.S. Census Bureau, the green eye shade bureaucrats had released “Report Number: P50-256” (Zzzzz — Readers wake up!). It would become the lead story in the next day’s New York Times and Washington Post, complete with front-page graphs – because it was a positive news development Americans have been hoping to see for a decade. “Americans last year reaped the largest economic gains in nearly a generation as poverty fell, health insurance coverage spread and incomes rose sharply for households on every rung of the economic ladder, ending years of stagnation,” The Times report began. The 5.2 percent increase in median household incomes was “the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967.”
But wait until Hell freezes over: Throughout the day and night, TV news gave scant first-day coverage to this major news story. Cable news gave it slight mention — without the visual graphics TV ought to provide. When they mentioned the economic news at all, it was mainly just as a new way of having political pundit panels gab about the same-old campaign game-strategies. If you aren’t in the habit of reading The Washington Post or New York Times, you may have missed the story entirely.
It’s enough to make us all ask in frustration: Can’t anybody here play this game?
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.