Political Beanbag

Political Beanbag

Politics ain’t beanbag” is an oft used quote about the rough and tumble, often bruising, realities of living and participating in a democracy.  The phrase was coined by Finley Peter Dunne, a Chicago author who wrote of a fictional character, Mr. Dooley.  Starting in the 1890s, Dunne wrote a column where Dooley offered up a philosophy of life from his perch on a barstool in a Chicago pub. Politics ain’t beanbag is probably the best known of Mr. Dooley’s witticisms.

At my age and stage, I have experienced the truth of this philosophy often.  Things can be tough – pick yourself up and move on – is what Mr. Dooley seems to be saying.  I recall 1984 when Frank McCloskey won a “landslide election” for Congress in the “Bloody Eighth” Congressional District.  The first reported results had McCloskey winning by four votes. Or did the Republican candidate Rick McIntyre win by 34 votes?  This is what one of the many “recounts” in the following days claimed?

My memory is that a “true result” was never fully determined, as there were thousands of ballots that were not counted for “technical reasons.” Most of these uncounted votes were in Democratic-leaning precincts.  Indiana Republican Secretary of State, Ed Simcox, decided to certify McIntyre as the winner but the Democrats controlled the U.S. House of Representatives and accepted that McCloskey had won – even if only by four votes!  And so, the high drama was on! 

Thus, in early 1985 Speaker Tip O’Neill swore in and seated McCloskey as a member of Congress. The ensuing full-blown melodrama was worthy of a Shakespeare comedy.  Walkouts and shouting and blaming were orchestrated by folks like Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney.  Speaker Tip O’Neill and Texan Democrat Jim Wright took advantage of their power of office. 

This election may have helped set the stage for current election denial and conspiracy theories.  Of course, one also thinks of the Swiftboating tactics used against John Kerry in the Presidential Campaign in 2004 when lies undercutting a distinguished military career were broadcast widely.  In Indiana over recent years, I recall mayoral races marked by dishonest whispering campaigns. In one, a fella was said to be a closeted gay man.  In another city, the rumor was that the candidate had a mistress “on the wrong side of town.”  This was meant to say she was of another race.  I wondered if it would have mattered if the mistress was on the right side of town.

Politics ain’t beanbag is a truism. Bloomington has just finished our primary elections.  There are, no doubt, some candidates and members of the electorate still nursing some election bruises.  Some candidates were said to be too close to developers, or another to realtors, or another to people who want to block any progress. We even witnessed some rather strange, last-minute, “news coverage” concerning unsubstantiated allegations against a mayoral candidate. 

Still, there did seem to be a good exchange of ideas coming from several debates and town hall gatherings.  Even so, this should be a moment to “dust ourselves of and move on.” A time to look toward building our future together.  Mayor Hamilton’s term has several months ahead when good and cooperative work is possible.  More, this is a time to step beyond the meanness and divisions we see on the national level and plan for a positive cooperative governance in the future.  Now are the months to appreciate what can still be accomplished by our current elected officials and look to a positive future with new city leadership.

In 2022 Daniel Effron and Beth Anne Helgason published “The Moral Psychology of Misinformation.”  They identify a newly emerging danger in our politics, the growing tendency to excuse dishonesty in a post-truth world.  They conclude: “As political lies and ‘fake news’ flourish, citizens appear not only to believe misinformation, but also to condone misinformation… We are post-truth in that it is concerningly easy to get a moral pass for dishonesty even when people know you are lying.” 

The primary election is over.  Maybe it is a time to commit to speaking truth in the elections and governance ahead.  Can we be a people who will not believe misinformation?  Will we live into truth even while understanding the beanbags will fly.