Friday, April 17, 2009

Tom Watson on April 15 -- Jackie Robinson and Teaparties

The Radio Republicans showed out on April 15. Rag-tag assortments of talk radio malcontents did what they do best, expressing amorphous outrage in loud but incoherent rhetoric.
Simultaneously the world of baseball commemorated, yet again, the memory and greatness of Jackie Robinson.

Tom Watson juxtaposes these two observances in a must-read essay.

The most beautiful view last night at Citi Field, the Mets' new ballpark in Queens, was the pre-game shot on the massive centerfield video screen of Rachel Robinson, resplendent at age 86 and a glowing, regal presence during the opening game ceremonies honoring the 62nd anniversary of her late husband's gift to the American nation. On a day that saw thousands of dead-enders, 9/11 conspiracy fanatics, immigrant haters and keyboard revolutionaries "rally" against the American form of representative democracy in so-called "tea parties" around the country, you got the feeling that Rachel Robinson could walk into any of these surly mobs in Cincinnati or St. Louis or Pasadena and part the waters of intolerance by the force of elegance and history alone.

Some conservative bloggers think baseball's annual tribute to Jackie Robinson is "over the top" and has "reached the point of absurdity," and perhaps they've got a point: teams should stick to their increasingly corporate business plans and steroid-damaged product, rather than pausing once a year to recognize the one true American hero who first suited up in Major League flannels 62 years ago yesterday. Let April 15th merely pass as tax day, when all ballclubs can cheer their anti-trust exemption and most can toast their tax incentives and stadium construction deals paid for by the American dime.

Yet last night, from my modest seats in the relatively modest and intimate taxpayer-assisted Citi Field - built on the Fitzgerald's Valley of the Ashes next to the No. 7 line in the former parking lot of the now-deceased Shea Stadium - the Robinson-flavored celebration was perfectly pitched to our times: a relatively subtle yet urgent tug on the sleeves of younger generations. That tug suggests a pause to consider the ideals Robinson embodied, as well as his evident humanity and brilliant baseball skill. Sketched around the outside wall of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the Mets' main entryway built to evoke Ebbetts in the neighboring borough, is the man's famed epitaph: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

Robinson was famously a Republican, of course - but more of the Rockefeller variety, and he destroyed William F. Buckley on his own Firing Line program in 1964 by arguing forcefully (and accurately) that the John Birch wing of the party was dominated by racists. The former Dodger remembered the encounter with pride: "A man who prides himself on coming out of verbal battle cool, smiling, and victorious, he lost his calm, became snappish and irritated, and, when the show was over and everyone else was shaking hands, got up and strode angrily out of the studio."

April 15th was the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but the entire 1947 season was his long trial, and into retirement he continued to civil rights and tolerance in tough but civil discourse. As his widow spoke about his legacy in Queens to a crowd of Mets fan that included my son (who reveres Jackie Robinson as his hero and raced down the aisle to snap a shot of Mrs. Robinson on the field) the recalcitrant and long-growing roots of American intolerance sent up a few shoots into the spring sun shine. You probably saw some of the "Tea Party" signs, and reached for your trusty weed-wacker (or felt the sudden need for a shower):

  • "Wake Up! Fresh Prince of Belair (sic) is Destroying Us -- Stop Drinking the Red Koolaid."
  • Obama's Plan: White Slavery
  • Somewhere in Kenya a Village is Missing itsw Idiot
  • The American Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's Ovens
  • Obama Socialist Pig

Ostensibly an anti-tax movement in the long tradition of anti-tax movements in this country, yesterday's pathetic teafest was in reality just an excuse to vent: frustration at the failure of the conservative movement and the end of Reagan revolution, anger at the incompetence of the Republican leadership and the rise of the Democrats, some legitimate frustration with massive corporate bailouts - and a whole lotta good old-fashioned Confederate flag-waving American intolerance, keyed to the inescapable fact that the President of the United States is not a white man.

I don't think Jackie Robinson would be particularly surprised that one corner of mainstream Republican political action is still driven by intolerance. I do think he'd be gratified how that small that hate-driven movement is.

Baseball's "corporate business plans and steroid-damaged product." I love it! Wish I'd said that.

There's more at the link, including a Nate Silver link. I've been wondering for two days how to couple Nate Silver's wonderful neologism "Radio Republicans" with the teaparty tantrums. Tom Watson did it perfectly, contrasting the smallness of their gestures with the timeless impact of a truly great American hero. And if his essay is an ice cream sundae, the Nate Silver link is a cherry on the top.

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