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Editor's Weekly: The nation and Cardinal Nation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 18, 2013: Dear Beaconites --

The nation spent most of the week in a self-generated tailspin before Congress got its act together Wednesday to reopen the government and avoid default. In Cardinal Nation, life was better as the team headed home with a 3-2 lead. It's no wonder many St. Louisans prefer the alternate reality of sports to the reality of politics.

My own relationship with Cardinals is, well, complicated. Yes, they're handsome, charming and successful. But a love affair in the sports world raises some real world questions. Is it smart to invest so much civic pride in a sports franchise? Is it right to capitalize on fan loyalty toward players who mostly have no community roots? Wouldn't we all benefit if some of the emotion, energy and economic activity that revolve around the team were channeled toward more substantive ends?

Still, come October, I put these questions aside and embrace the joys and dramas of the post season. On the field this week, grace, determination and teamwork prevailed. In the real world, Washington tied itself in knots. Watching from the sidelines, I couldn't help but wonder which set of players was trapped in a fantasy world.

Trite sports analogies aside, baseball and politics have some things in common. For example, both have written rules. In baseball, they keep the game moving and the competition fair. Teams may have factions, but at game time they all show up and play.

In Washington, the written rules open endless opportunities for delay and undue influence. This messiness is unavoidable -- even necessary -- in striking an appropriate balance between majority interests and minority passions. But even with deadlines looming and fiscal hazards on the horizon, it took weeks for our elected representatives to show up and vote.

Both baseball and politics have unwritten rules, too. In baseball, they keep tempers and egos in check. Grandstand and the opposing pitcher will drill you with a high hard one. In politics, quite the opposite happens. Grandstand and you're likely to draw media attention and campaign contributions. The unwritten rules reward self interest over teamwork.

In both baseball and politics, performance counts. Teams win or lose and the stats show why. Candidates win or lose, too. But their success depends more on short-term strategizing than on long-term consistency. With districts gerrymandered to favor one party, it makes political sense for tea party Republicans to stand on their anti-government principles and for moderates to hesitate in confronting them. Public interest takes a back seat.

Ultimately, voters will decide whether they like the results. But politics is not as simple as baseball, and even relatively clearcut electoral messages break down when they must be translated into laws and policies. President Obama has won two elections, yet Obamacare, his signature program, was at the center of the current dispute.

There is one way in which I find politics more appealing than baseball. Politics includes women as full partners, though still underrepresented ones. This week, as The New York Times reported, several women led the way toward resolution of the debt impasse.

Women are very seldom found in baseball -- the sight of a woman trainer walking down the base path with Hanley Ramirez after he was drilled in the ribs was notable because women are so rare. And for the playoff teams, they're not even in the announcers' booth, where you need not be a former player or even a coherent speaker but only a fount of baseball knowledge with a knack for connecting with fans. I know many proud citizens of Cardinal Nation who are women. How great it would be to see a woman in a prominent role.

At the Beacon, we've been working to clarify what's at stake in all the games underway this October. Editor Donna Korando has pulled together links to interesting Cards coverage from many sources.

On the political front, Beacon health reporter Robert Joiner has looked at the costs and benefits of the Affordable Care Act and of Missouri's refusal to expand Medicaid.

Mary Delach Leonard, Jo Mannies and Jason Rosenbaum have turned to economic experts to asses the local impact of the government shutdown and the debt ceiling issue. Jo and Jason have tried to pin down exactly where St. Louis area members of Congress stand -- a challenge because many of them stopped talking in the days leading up to the vote.

Sorting out the consequences of our government's actions and inactions will take time. For the moment, St. Louisans will be turning our attention from the nation to Cardinal Nation.

Sincerely,

Margie

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