NASCAR and populism (cont’d.)

Bryan Curtis has an interesting Slate item providing some historical context for politicians making populist appeals via sports (focusing on the dark side of populism). And Ellen Goodman notes that President Bush's campaign stop at the Daytona 500 was officially regarded as some kind of policy event — so it and the Air Force One flyover get billed to the taxpayer and not the Bush campaign.

The so-called "NASCAR Dad" isn't as easy to pigeonhole as pundits and pols seem to think, but Democrats do need to do a better job of reaching out to this constituency — it's a group whose interests, after all, are better served by the Democratic agenda. The majority of President Bush's tax cuts are not designed to benefit the majority of the people in the stands at the Daytona 500.

Reaching out to the "NASCAR" demographic means avoiding stereotypes and condescending jokes. It also means reaching out without pandering.

On this subject, I think Democrats could learn a lesson from two Republican New York City mayors.

Rudy Giuliani is a Yankees fan. I'm not a New Yorker, but like many citizens of the Big Apple, I hate the Yankees. Yet even when Giuliani visited Shea Stadium he wore his Yankees cap (a dangerous thing to do if you're not surrounded by a mayoral security detail). Like all Mets fans and right-thinking people, I dislike Giuliani's Yankees cap, but — and here's the key point — I respect him for not pretending he was something he wasn't.

Consider Mayor David Dinkins. The man wore a Mets cap at Shea and a Yankees cap at Yankee Stadium. This violates all the laws of nature. You can't root for both teams. The "NY" on your cap must either have serifs or not. It cannot be interchangeable. Dinkins' desire not to offend either group of fans ended up offending all baseball fans in New York. At least with Giuliani, Mets fans knew where they stood.

The current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is originally from Boston and reportedly remains a fan of the Sox. One might think this would exclude him from participating in New York politics, but what it actually gets him is a kind of grudging respect (mixed with pity). The unforgivable sin would have been if he had — for purely political reasons — abandoned the Red Sox and begun cheering for the Yankees or Mets. That would have demonstrated both a lack of character and a fundamental disrespect for the passion of real fans. (Even Roger Clemens had to leave the country first, pitching in Canada for two years before donning pinstripes.)

A candidate who admits he's not a NASCAR fan isn't apt to lose votes over that fact — and he is still free to reach out to those who are race fans. But a candidate who isn't a NASCAR fan yet starts to pretend he is in order to win votes will end up looking foolish and offending the very constituency he tries to reach.

So please, Democrats, don't try pretending you're a longtime fan if you're not. Instead think of it like this: There were about 180,000 race fans at the Daytona 500. Since NASCAR fans correlate closely to the general public, that means some 25,000+ people in those stands lacked health insurance. Talk about that, not about Tony Stewart.

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N.B.: I have a theory — and this is only a theory, based on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence — that as a general trend, liberals are more likely to be Mets fans while conservatives are more likely to be Yankees fans. This is obviously not a universal rule, but if you collected, say, 100,000 Mets fans, 100,000 Yankees fans, and a control group of, say, people from Los Angeles who don't really care about baseball, I'm guessing the Mets group would skew slightly more liberal and the Yankees group slightly more conservative than the general public.

I'm not sure why this seems to be true. It may be due in part to the liberal tendency to root for the underdog (studies of Cubs or Red Sox fans could support this). Or it may be due to a subconscious desire for punishment arising from liberal guilt (ditto with the Cubs and Red Sox on that score as well). It may even have something to do with the Mets inheriting the mantle of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.

Any theories?

  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    As somebody or other said, rooting for the Yankees is kind of like organizing a fan club for Microsoft or General Motors. The effort seems superfluous, somehow.

  • peter

    The Yankees copious amounts of money, flaunting of said money, and near-dominance of the current baseball scene are certainly reminicent of a certain group of neo-cons. The Mets, on the other hand, have their talented players, their devoted fans, but for some reason, aren’t doing quite as well as logic says they should be. They just can’t catch a break. Sound like anyone you know?

  • SKBubba

    In the 2002 Goobernatorial election here in Tennessee, both candidates sponsored NASCAR race car drivers. Actually, NASCAR SuperTruck Series race truck drivers.
    Hilleary, the Republican, was out front on this. Bredesen, the Democrat, played catch up and also sent out a mailer with a picture of him in a hunting vest holding a shotgun.
    Based on his background, I doubt he is much of a NASCAR fan, or a hunter.
    He won anyway.

  • chef

    Great writing as usual. Some of us NASCAR fans are liberal, dammit. But most of the ones I know are truely racist and will vote for the racist(i mean republican) party.

  • Daddy-O

    I think it has more to do with Yankees fans liking WINNING at all costs. Well, at any cost to breaking the rules, to Steinbrenner’s wallet, to deriding the umps for calls that don’t go their way, any cost to the Boston Red Sox…
    I think conservatives generally regard losing as the ONLY sin, despite moralizing to the contrary.
    Anyway.
    Later,

  • mj

    Way back when, when New York was home to three baseball clubs, defense lawyers and prosecutors use to ask potential jurors during their vior dire which team they backed. Dodger fans were considered pro-defense, and Yankee fans were considered pro-state, but Giant fans were considered neutral.

  • Rebecca Allen, PhD

    It’s obvious. The Yankees represent the plutocracy that supports the Republicans.

  • JRoth

    There was a great piece in the Times a year or two ago – it might have been around the time that the Mets signed Vaughn and all those other free agents who were supposed to help – outlining, essentially, how it is that Yankees fans are such jerks. It all came down to a sense of entitlement. First, that the Yanks are entitled to win – that g-damn “aura” – and second, that as fans, they are somehow winners themselves.
    Thing is, if you’re from the Bronx or Westchester, then you come by fandom honestly, and you lucked out – it’s accident of birth (what a Republican concept). If you’re from elsewhere, and your folks aren’t Yankees fans, then you’re just rooting for a winner. That doesn’t make you a winner – it makes you a flunky.
    Me, I moved to Pittsburgh for college in 1990, and rooted against the Pirates in 90, 91, & 92. Around 94, I started going to games, and now they’re my favorite team. It certainly doesn’t make me a flunky, but it may make me an idiot.
    BTW, it was comedian Joe E Lewis who said, “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for US Steel.” A bittersweet quote for those of us in the (former) Steel City.

  • Dan Bennett

    I’m a Lions fan and darn near a socialist, take that for what you will.

  • Steve

    This is obviously not a universal rule, but if you collected, say, 100,000 Mets fans, 100,000 Yankees fans, and a control group of, say, people from Los Angeles who don’t really care about baseball, I’m guessing the Mets group would skew slightly more liberal and the Yankees group slightly more conservative than the general public.
    Ahem…this is one Dodger fan, and former resident of Southern CA, that takes offense to this remark.

  • John Peterson

    I am a liberal from Minnesota who is trying to get into NASCAR. Unfortunately, I am trying to pick a couple of racers to support that are liberals. IF that is not possible I would like to at least pick a couple of drivers who aren’t to the right of George Bush.
    Anyone with NASCAR experience have any suggestions for me?
    I currently like Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch…Any info on them?

  • Leeshe

    This is an old thread, but I’ll reply anyway…
    Beware that most Nascar drivers are at least saying they support the president, probably so not to piss off the fans and ruin the growth of the sport. Stewart says he’s Republican, but he doesn’t vote, so I’d mark him as apathetic and say he’s a decent choice—he became my favorite before I cared about politics.
    Busch…I’m not so sure. I can’t remember who he said he voted for.
    If you’re looking for honest-to-God liberals, though, two good drivers to look into are Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers. Newman is a Purdue-educated engineer, and I’m sure he’s as liberal as he is intelligent. Vickers is also a smart little guy at 21 years old and idolizes Franklin Roosevelt. He’s Christian, but I never heard him say a thing about being a Republican, so he’s a good bet, as well.

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