Bill Mazeroski #9 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates as he...

Bill Mazeroski #9 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates as he runs home after hitting a walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania. The Pirates defeated the Yankees 10-9. Credit: MLB PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES/MLB Photos

Worried that another Democratic presidential majority will be thwarted by the Electoral College or that the malapportionment of the Senate will rob them of the majority they deserve, Democrats could draw some useful lessons from the New York Yankees.  

In the 1960 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Yankees won every statistic that mattered — they scored twice as many runs as the Pirates over seven games, had a higher team batting average, and their pitchers gave up fewer earned runs — except the number that counted the most. The Pirates beat them four games to three when Bill Mazeroski hit a dramatic walk-off, ninth-inning home run in the deciding game of the October Classic.

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton suffered a fate similar to the 1960 Yankees in the 2016 election. She won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. Just as the rules of baseball treated the Yankees’ blowout victories (16-3; 10-0; and 12-0) the same as their close defeats (6-4; 3-2; 5-2; and 10-9) in that series, the Electoral College gave Clinton no more credit for her large margins in California and New York than it did for her narrow losses in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

But that is where the similarities end. After the World Series, the Yankees didn’t grouse that the Pirates’ win was tainted because they had outplayed their opponents, nor did they complain that they had been the victim of discriminatory rules because the World Series treated their ample victories the same as their close defeats.  

In contrast, today, Democrats criticize rules they believe are biased against them. They object that they won the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections only to have their majority nullified by the Electoral College in two of them. Some pundits are already forecasting it is quite possible that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will win by even a bigger popular vote margin than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 only to lose again in the Electoral College in 2020. 

Democrats also complain that the Senate violates basic democratic rules. Wyoming, our least populous state with 570,000 people, is represented by the same number of senators as California, our most populous state with about 40 million. This mocks the principle of equal representation. The equal representation of states in the Senate regardless of their size gives undue influence to small states that are more rural, whiter, and more Republican than the rest of America.  

Democrats are correct. The rules are biased against them. But the rules aren’t going to change. Abolishing the Electoral College or changing the basis of representation in the Senate are non-starters because they require constitutional amendments that are not politically possible. At best, such proposals are fantasies. At worst, they are indulgent because they produce a sense of victimization and a feeling of self-righteousness. 

But the obsession with how unfair the rules are can have even more pernicious effects. Complaining about the rules distracts from organizing to win within them. It absolves the Democrats of coming up with strategies and programs that are appropriate to the rules they face. 

The tilt in U.S. rules, the biases built into the Senate and the Electoral College, require Democrats to appeal to rural voters in smaller states that tend to be more conservative than the rest of the country. But rather than change their strategy and program to fit the rules, Democrats choose instead to condemn them. Instead of broadening their appeal, which is in their purview and is politically possible, they propose changing the rules, which is not. 

Complaining about the rules is an admission that the bicoastal liberal elites who comprise the intellectual base of the Democratic Party have nothing to offer rural America and have abandoned it. It confirms the suspicions of rural voters that cosmopolitan liberal Democrats dismiss their problems, even as deaths of despair, from opioids to suicides, ravage their communities. This is a lazy way to do politics. It is also self-defeating because rural America with 15% of all voters is too big to ignore. 

It’s funny that Democrats didn’t grouse about how unfair the rules are after they won a majority in the House and the Senate, and captured the presidency in 2008. The burden of overcoming biased rules only seems overwhelming when you are losing. Winners never complain that the rules discriminate against them.

Democrats need to have the resiliency of the Yankees.  After the Yankees lost to the Pirates in 1960, they didn’t argue that Major League Baseball should change its rules so that the winner is the team that scores the most runs or the team that hits for the highest average. The next year, in 1961, they went out and beat the Cincinnati Reds four games to one, under the same rules that seemed so cruel to them the year before. They became World Series champions.  

The same can happen to Democrats in 2020, but only if they stop complaining about the rules and instead develop programs and strategies that take them into account.  

 Alan Draper is the Michael R. and Virginia M. Ranger professor of government at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.


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