Most of us at The Weekly Standard are baseball fans. Like all human institutions we are imperfect, so we have a few colleagues who superciliously disdain sports, and a few others who vulgarly prefer football or basketball. But we ignore the naysayers and carpers in our midst. We’re proud to endorse the words of baseball pioneer Albert Goodwill Spalding:
I claim that Base Ball owes its prestige as our National Game to the fact that as no other sport it is the exponent of American Courage, Confidence, Combativeness; American Dash, Discipline, Determination; American Energy, Eagerness, Enthusiasm; American Pluck, Persistency, Performance; American Spirit, Sagacity, Success; American Vim, Vigor, Virility.
Or as Philip Roth put it a century later, “Baseball made me understand what patriotism was about, at its best.”
We at The Weekly Standard are also admirers of human excellence. There are conservatives whose jaundiced view of human nature not only provides a useful check on utopian fantasies but also casts a wet blanket on any impulse to admire human achievement. There is a role and a place for that kind of conservatism. But it is not ours. We choose rather, in this time and place, to keep in mind the admonition of Leo Strauss: “We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence.”
And so, as fans of baseball and admirers of human excellence, we appreciated and indeed were thrilled by the World Series achievement of San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner: seven innings of 3-hit, 1-run pitching to get the Giants off to a winning start in Game 1; a 4-hit complete game shutout in Game 5 to give the Giants a 3-2 lead in the series; and five innings of scoreless relief on two days’ rest to close out the series in Game 7. Curt Schilling, who has a claim to know about such things, called Bumgarner’s the “best postseason performance ever.”
We appreciate the achievement. We will enjoy the memories. But—to get to politics—our message to our fellow conservatives, as we turn the corner from Election Day 2014, is this: Expect no Bumgarner. Put not your faith in princes. Or, to quote the American Founder after whom Bumgarner was named: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
In other words, don’t count on a conservative superstar emerging, one who can put the rest of the team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. Don’t wish for what most likely will not be. Expect our standard-bearers to be flawed. None will have all the virtues one would want in a presidential candidate. All will reflect—will fully reflect—the crooked timber of humanity.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t win. The vast majority of World Series victories have been achieved without a Bumgarner. Baseball is a team effort. Democratic politics is a group effort. The reason there’s a conservative movement is to shape, guide, and carry along leaders who can’t do it all by themselves. As even Bumgarner didn’t, in fact. Bruce Bochy and Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence and many others did, after all, play key roles. We have Bochys and Sandovals and Pences. We shouldn’t waste too much time yearning for a Bumgarner.
It is the Democrats, in fact, who are in the uncomfortable position of resting everything on one person. Hillary Clinton is, they hope, going to overcome the evident failures of the Obama administration and the manifest deficiencies of contemporary liberalism. Expectations for her are high. She won’t fulfill them.
The 2016 presidential election is unlikely to produce the drama or the heroism of the 2014 World Series. What Yogi Berra said of baseball is usually true of politics: “It ain’t like football. You can’t make up no trick plays.” Conservatives needn’t and shouldn’t rest their presidential hopes on either brilliant trickery or extraordinary mastery. Neither is likely. The good news is neither is necessary for a victory.