The initial reaction following yesterday’s shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and others was political unity. There has been some politicizing of the shooting, yet most of Congress has pulled together. It was a unifying event much like the reaction following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. This attack on a Republican baseball practice was seen as an attack on all Americans. All day there were reports of Senators and Congressman embracing members of the opposite party. There was very little finger pointing but rather an implicit recognition that it was a time to come together. In this toxic political divide between the two parties, some unity is refreshing.
The annual baseball match between Democrats and Republicans has become a tradition of comradery. It has become the one time a year when the two parties set aside political differences to play a game with a common agreed upon goal, raising money for charity. It may be the only event when they can proudly agree on a common goal.
That’s why the shooters attack wasn’t just on Republicans. It was an attack on the institution of an annual bipartisan baseball charity game. The fact that it apparently was politically motivated by a Sanders supporter doesn’t change the nature of the attack. It was an attack on both parties and our nation.
Many legislators weighed in on the bipartisan nature of this attack. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” said Paul Ryan.
Should anyone begin to make this shooting a partisan attack on Republicans they need to review some history. It important to remember this isn’t the first time this baseball competition has been threatened with violence. Former Democratic Congressman and police officer, Bart Stupak has been concerned about his event since he received death threats 2010. Following his vote for the Affordable Health Care Act, he and his family were threatened. Two men, associated with right wing politics were arrested at that time and charged with conspiracy to murder Stupak. He was asked to ride in an armored car to baseball practice at the time. For the last three years, Democrats have had eight officers stationed at their baseball practices. “We never had to worry about anything like this until seven years ago,” Stupak said.
This annual bipartisan baseball charity event has a long history, it was first played in 1909. It was organized by a professional baseball player who was elected to Congress. The proceeds from this year’s game (still scheduled for tonight) is to honor victims of the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, England. Traditionally, the recipients include the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Washington Literacy Center. The competition generally raises more than $500,000 for those charities.
The annual Congressional Baseball game to be played tonight will be the 80th year that Democrats and Republicans have come together in a spirit of unity. Many legislators see baseball as a symbol of American unity and as a unique opportunity to put aside partisan differences and just play ball.
“I’m old-school, I still believe baseball is America’s pastime,” says Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois that has held office for more than 20 years. “And even though we’re competing, it brings us together.”
Seen in this historical perspective, it’s obvious why members of both parties have reacted with such great revulsion to the shooting. Not only was it an attack on one of their own, it was an attack on one of the few cherished traditions of bipartisanship.
Last year’s game was an example of needed relationship repair. Due to the previous weeks’ bitterly divisive votes on gun control some fellowship building was in order. The Democrats had just completed a 24-hour sit-in on the House floor in protest to the Republicans’ gun measures. The game was played with respect and collegiality seeming to put aside the week’s hostility.
Of course, it’s equally important to point out that there is a powerful current of competition to win one for your party. After all, it gives the winning party a year of baseball bragging rights.
Bill Richardson, former New Mexico Governor and former Congressman, played during his time in Congress. “It’s an extremely competitive game because the players are the most competitive people in the world.”
“The congressional baseball game is a bipartisan charity event. I know the Senate will embrace that spirit today as we come together in both expressing our concern and gratitude,” said Mitch McConnell.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “I join with the majority leader in offering our prayers for those who were injured and I was absolutely shaken by the news of a shooting earlier this morning at the baseball field in Alexandria, where many of my friends and colleagues were practicing for the annual congressional baseball game — an event that brings us together each year,” Schumer said.
How long will this unity last? The nation came together following the 9/11 attacks, but then the invasion of Iraq created a split that has grown ever wider. Will this shooting be a turning point that will yield real long lasting civility and bridge building or will we revert to our partisan corners?
by Rick Smith