November can be a cruel month for some. Turkeys would not describe it as a “fine time.” Turkey blood flows freely when the October calendar turns and the winds blow cold. Their slaughter is complete and in great numbers. Turkeys would be glad to tell you what it is like to be absolutely certain that you are doomed. But, alas, they cannot. Politicians and Major League Baseball players have to do it for them. Perhaps the Philadelphia Phillies and Andy Spano and Jon Corzine and nearly the entirety of the Democratic Party’s line-up in Virginia can best define the brutal finality of being on the receiving end of The Beatdown.
Poor Andy Spano. By late Tuesday, with four tall gins and a hat borrowed from Doctor Thompson’s kitbag, I watched solemnly as his battered and humiliated image appeared on the giant screen set up in the main ballroom of the Crowne Plaza. Over at the Rye Hilton, his aids had to wake him from what they said later was a “shock coma” to shuffle desperately onto a podium and explain how a 12-year incumbent in a three-to-one Democratic district could be severely thrashed by a 42-year-old broadcaster named Rob Astorino.
Astorino told me earlier that despite the odds he’d never felt calmer. The Cuban tending bar in the Scarsdale Room downstairs depicted the challenger’s demeanor as strangely confident; something between the last man at a blackjack table who is sure the bitty on his left will take a hit on 18 and leave him with his Ace and the cold, dark Mariano Rivera stare before he unloads another ungodly bat-shattering cutter to sting the knuckles of his helpless opponent
Rivera, a pitching machine, who is to closing baseball games as Picasso was to slapping together a new art form between barely legals, is in many ways for the World Champion NY Yankees what the voter became to a vulnerable candidate like Andy Spano; the death knell. There is a bell that tolls when the hour is late and Number 42 is toeing the rubber. It is an abstract reverberation, like being smacked in the face with a scalding wet rice sack. There is a stinging heat, followed by an awareness of pain that does not soon fade; permanence in pinstripes.
Ah, but fate, like baseball, has a way of bringing home the pure-cut doses of reality only the loser can accept with any proper emotional prescience. Although it turned out Spano had no serviceable answer for his defeat, nor did the several stunned members of the Westchester press corps. Several of the more confused among them flailed their arms about twice spilling my eleven-dollar cocktail and putting a scare into the victor’s first-born son, Sean, my godchild, and a hearty soul who told me that his father would not only win on this night, but “dominate.” His words, not mine.
By the time we reached the staging area, Spano was finishing up his concession speech across town, still being streamed in living color on a massive screen with drunken louts gripping nude photos of Sarah Palin and shouting expletives at him.
“That’s pretty harsh,” said Astorino’s treasurer, Laura Schwartz, who had once shared press credentials with me to the Yankees last titles in 1999 and 2000. We found the entire scene oddly serendipitous, together awaiting Astorino’s victory speech mere feet from a rostrum jam-packed with half-crazed Republicans, each of whom wanted a small piece of The Beatdown.
“This is a crude form of poetic justice,” I told Schwartz, “A job only Walt Whitman can distinguish properly.”
Ignoring my observations, she pointed sadly up to Spano’s final steps from politics and whispered, “Look at how his bones sag; there’s a ghostly fog upon him, as if soul has been plunged in battery acid.”
“My God, woman!” I shouted. “To hell with Whitman, get a pen!”
But there were no pens; only a rabble of sign wavers hooting and chanting Astorino’s name. I kept thinking of the right field pavilion at Yankee Stadium for Game 2 of this year’s World Series; where the wife and I watched the Bronx Nine get off the mat down 0-1 to begin a four-out-of-five clip of winning that within a week would secure the franchise’s 27th title. Beneath the din of bestial fanaticism before us, it became apparent that this was no ordinary autumn.
The Yankees would win with the great Rivera on the mound, a vindicated A-Rod having turned his wrecked image and October baseball into something out Homer and, of course, the inimitable Derek Jeter sprinting in from his shortstop position having finished a post season wherein he collected an unfathomable 22 hits in 18 games for his fifth ring. But none of this transpired before a Republican named Chris Christie ousted incumbent favorite Jon Corzine for New Jersey governor.
Corzine and Christie ran a hate-filled smear-fest that ended badly for Corzine when he foolishly relied on the same “strong” Democratic base as the blindsided Spano. But the 47-year-old Christie, like Astorino, culled moderate Democrats and a boatload of angry independents with a newly formed but proved to be unbeatable Libertarian populist, anti-tax, anti-big government mantra. Long gone from these Republican tickets, albeit a smaller sampling than the routs of ’08 and the soon-to-be discussed challenges of 2010, were the divisive social issues that have turned many conservative dinosaurs like Rush Limbaugh into powder. It’s over for Limbaugh’s 1950s-style politics and the sooner the national party understands this, the better chance it has to rise from the ashes.
Fiscal conservatism carried the day as much as good old Yankees mystique in a brand, spanking new stadium did. That and the usual flip-flop mentality of the electorate which collectively expects to be given everything and not pay for it, which ultimately cost the progressives in a small but significant way in 2009. And while the young, bold Astorino is a proud religious man and runs the Catholic Channel for Sirius Radio, he also said without equivocation that his faith and social ideologies were not the issue; lowering the tax burden and responsibility in government was.
There is a new stadium in the Bronx with the same results. Will this be the start of a new century of republicanism?
It was no ordinary November.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, and Midnight For Cinderella. Read more at jamescampion.com.