It happens a hundred times or more each baseball season. A player is thrown out on a close play at the plate, and immediately the manager comes boiling out of the dugout, charging onto the scene with cap pulled low on his forehead, his jaw jutting, and fury in his eyes. Then comes the emphatic gestures, the dust kicking, the words the TV networks carefully don't pick up delivered into the face of an umpire with spittle-flecked fury. Finally, with a last snarl and an over the shoulder look of disgust, the manager stalks off the field and play continues.
You see something similar in basketball, where players hurl themselves back from the slightest contact, sliding across the floor on the seat of their glossy shorts before springing to their feet, spreading their arms, and appealing to the gods against such gross injustice. When the theatrics don't generate the desired call, the player shakes his head, clearly saddened that the ref should be blind to something so obvious.
In both situations, players and coaches know well enough that they are probably in the wrong. The runner was out. The contact too light to deserve a foul. The umpire or referee got it right the first time. But being right is not the point. The point is to introduce the idea that the ref is not being fair; that he's calling things with a slant toward the other team. Do it well enough and often enough, and maybe the fans in the stands will start to mumble on the next call. Maybe the ump will let one slide your way that's really not deserved. Maybe your man will get the call on a below the knees strike. Maybe the ref will let you have an extra step (or three) when approaching the basket. You know, so he looks fair.
The problem is that this idea of fair, the idea of giving one side an extra nudge just to keep the game balanced, isn't really fair at all. It may be exciting, it may keep the fans in their seats for another inning, but it's really a complete rejection of fairness. It's sacrificing the integrity of the game for the illusion of fairness. It's admitting that the rules of the game are less important than the take from the turnstiles.
Which is exactly what the Republicans want from politics.
In politics, Republicans have been gaming the ref for decades. Year after year they have hammered home the idea that the media which serves the nation -- the network news broadcasts, the major newspapers, national magazines -- was consistently skewed against them. Complaints against the "liberal media" went on for so long that the Republicans not only got the public to believe it, they got the media to believe it.
Even when they controlled Congress and the White House, even when they dominated the air waves, even when they built their own alternative sources for media of every form, the Republican position continued to be that journalists worked against them. And from this decades long efforts, the GOP gained an unspoken agreement. The press would be... fair. It wouldn't question Republican statements. It wouldn't challenge conservative economics no matter how unsupported, or dissect anti-scientific statements no matter how ridiculous, or go after not so veiled instances of misogyny or racism in the GOP. Instead, traditional journalism would be placed in the closet where the rules of round ball and Olympic pigeon shooting are stored, and a new journalism based more around the role of debate moderator would be instituted.
At first glance, this new game might seem to make some actual claim on fairness. After all Democrats could just make up their own unreality to match the GOP fantasies. But there's a problem with that. In the game called government, winning is a secondary goal for Republicans. Oh sure, they'll take any office they can get and use it to forward their aims, but there are critical differences between the game Republicans are playing and the theatrics of sports teams. For Republicans, wrecking the game comes first.
Mitch McConnell told you the goals for this season from the outset. There's no mystery here, not even more than a token attempt to misdirect. The Republican aim -- the announced, undisputed goal -- is simply to see that the economy does not recover. Not to pass legislation, or promote any plan, but to just make sure that things stayed as bad as possible. To that end, they took every opportunity to crush anything that might help.
Why? Not just because it would help President Obama, but because any recovery that could be connected to government action might show that government can be an effective, helpful force. That's what Republicans can't allow.
The One True Narrative, forged when the land was young and Mitt Romney just an abusive son of privilege living off a portfolio of stocks, is this: government is the problem.
Everything that Republicans have done in the last thirty years is meant to serve that theme. Government agencies, whether they are FEMA or MSHA, must be weak and ineffective. Government regulations, such as those that guard markets and protect workers, must be harmful. No government action can be seen as competent, much less exceptional. And absolutely nothing the government does can possibly be beneficial to the economy.
To that end, Republicans only have to gum up the works. Democrats have to show results. Republicans, despite appearances, aren't so stupid that they don't understand the advantage this gives them. Paul Ryan's speech last week is a prime example. Ryan railed against changes to programs that he supported, blamed Obama for thwarting a panel that Ryan himself had blocked, and made assertions of fact that were both statistically and chronologically challenged. And while a few sources called him on it, even more were willing to report his statements without comment.
They're willing to bet that they can get away with lying to the public and tripping up the government, because the ref isn't going to call them on it. We better hope their wrong. There's no game without the rules and a ref to enforce them, no government without a well informed public supported by journalists who put facts ahead of false fairness.