Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Would Nate Silver Think?

As I type these words, 25 baseball players, assorted managers and coaches, and maybe even a few security guards and cameramen are jumping on each other on a field in Tampa Bay, Florida. They are celebrating because their squad is going to play in the World Series for the first time. Soon, the players will break out the champagne and try to blind each other with it. In the first ten years of the Tampa Bay Rays's existence, the team had never won more than 70 games. They had finished in last place in their division in nine of those ten years. (The other year they finished second to last.) Now they are going to the World Series. Tonight's game featured an important performance by a rookie pitcher named David Price who is five months and thirteen days younger than I am. His first time pitching in the major leagues was September 14, a little more than a month ago. He recorded the last four out of the clinching contest against the defending champions, and three of those outs came via strikeout. The game-winning RBI (a dumb stat, sure, when trying to evaluate the effectiveness of ballplayers, but an important storyline) was struck by Rocco Baldelli, who has missed most of the last three seasons with injuries that may have been related to mitochondrial abnormalities which he is just now recovering from.

All this serves to remind me that sports--that last great unscripted bit of American entertainment--is way better when it seems as if it had been scripted.

I can't think of any feature of American life more diametrically opposed to this state of events than politics. Unlike entertainment, American life is seriously unscripted. Seriously unscripted, that is, except for political campaigning, which is the most overly managed, least spontaneous--in a sense--the least real aspect of America. I submit to you that the best moments of politics are (or, at least, feel) unscripted.

The most riveting facet of the third and most recent presidential debate was the physical proximity of the two candidates. I watched the debate on C-SPAN (cool, I know) which went with a split-screen view throughout the entire performance. Both candidates had ample time to prepare for the questions addressed directly to them. They were both very much on display when Bob Schieffer was addressing them. But they noticeably let their guard down when the other man was being addressed. And, thankfully, C-SPAN with their split-screen shots caught these scripted politicians when this occurred.

I think this compilation is somewhat unfair to McCain, and I think it was in poor-taste for Obama to use similar clips in a recent campaign ad, but I'm fascinated by this. The annoyance, frustration, and disbelief that McCain feels towards Obama is real and gripping. And it feels very much opposed to general political campaigning which consists mostly of speaking to and with people who already support you.

Politics is most interesting when it feels as it had not been scripted.

No comments: