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The First Wednesday After the First Tuesday

The President returned to the White House late that night to cope with history. History…would not care at all that the Cards won the World Series that day by 4 to 3.
—Theodore White, Making of the President 1964, regarding the events of 10/15/64

On December 15, 1991, six Democratic presidential candidates met in New Hampshire for a debate in advance of that state’s first-in-the-nation primary, which was two months away. Most of them included in their closing statements some variation on “happy holidays,” which got my attention more than anything specific Bob Kerrey, Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin, Doug Wilder, Jerry Brown or eventual nominee and president Bill Clinton promised that night.

“Happy holidays”? In a presidential primary?

This is all wrong, I thought. There are election campaigns, there’s Election Day — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — and then there’s your pile-up of Christmas and Chanukah and New Year’s, all blissfully politician-free. Only after all the market-sanctioned merriment is disposed of, then you can have your caucuses and primaries. They don’t belong stuffed in stockings or hovering over menorahs.

A quaint notion on my part. Campaigns have commenced earlier and every in every presidential cycle since 1992. The 2008 Iowa caucuses were held January 3. Political junkie that I am, I spent most of the 2007 holiday season riveted to C-Span. Such are the hazards of frontloading the nominating process until the year before the election becomes part of the election year itself.

I bring all this up because last night I watched Michael Bloomberg give an acceptance speech for winning re-election as mayor of New York City, and as he wrapped it up, he attempted to rouse his already jubilant crowd with a little call and response.

“And working together,” he declared, “I have no doubt that our best days are still ahead. Our best years are still ahead.

“Now, can we do it?”

His supporters cheered in the affirmative.

“Will you help me?”

Yes they would, they said.

“Will you help me — will you help make the greatest city in the world even better?”

They agreed to that, too.

“Will the Yankees win Game Six?”

Never mind that this, sadly, was an applause line (though a few dissenting hoots sounded a reassuring note). This was Election Night, November 3, and a politician was exhorting a local baseball team to victory.

This I found to be even more wrong than candidates insinuating themselves into the December holidays. Candidates go where the votes are, even if it’s a little unseemly to be doing it amid holly and mistletoe. It’s what they do. Politicians have established a cherished tradition of sticking their faces everywhere if they think it will help get them elected. Embroidered into the legend of the 1969 Mets [1] is the way Mayor John Lindsay planted himself in the middle of every Shea clubhouse celebration that September and October, thus boosting his limited popularity among Queens residents who had just finished digging out their streets from the previous February’s snowstorm.

I find Bloomberg blameless for his reflexive sucking up to a bloc of his jurisdiction’s sports fans, no matter which fans we’re talking about. It’s what politicians do in all seasons. But Bloomberg wasn’t trolling for votes. The election was over. The dissonance here was that the World Series wasn’t. The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November was passing into its first Wednesday and they were still playing baseball.

That’s wrong. It just is.

Baseball should not still be in progress after Election Day. It’s unnatural. It’s weird.

It’s cold.

There’s an old, probably outdated adage that Americans don’t start paying attention to an election until the World Series is decided. That was when there used to be a discernible gap between the two events. The 1964 World Series, to pull Teddy White’s ancient example from the archives, ended nineteen days ahead of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide over Barry Goldwater. Mayor Lindsay was re-elected eighteen days after his final Met champagne bath. Eight years later, Ed Koch succeeded Reggie Jackson as the big news in town by a matter of twenty-one days. Even in this age of playoffs and postponements, the 2008 Phillies clinched their title a full six days before Barack Obama clinched his.

The Phillies have been defending that championship [2] an awfully long time now. They hoisted their trophy exactly 53 weeks ago tonight. That’s more than a year. The Yankees maintained their defense from 2000 to 2001 slightly longer, but the November 4 ending to that campaign was attributable to everything being pushed back a week by 9/11 — and Election Day still came two days after the World Series.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s the American way: you have your baseball season, you have your postseason, you have your Election Day and then you get on with dreading Thanksgiving [3]. Instead, soon enough, Bud Selig will be dressed as St. Nick, touting the virtues of expanding the World Baseball Classic and insisting the World Series is, as Albert Brooks attempted to convince Garry Marshall regarding Las Vegas in Lost In America, a Christmas kind of place.

Bloomberg’s back to work this morning. His campaign is over. Everybody’s campaign is over except for the Yankees’ and the Phillies’. It’s November 4 and there’s going to be a baseball game outside tonight. It’s just wrong.

Though having another one on November 5 would be just fine by me.