In baseball and politics, strong rivalries lead to better performance

Regardless of how this magical season ends, the 2013 Red Sox will always be thought of as a team that lifted a city when it needed a boost and defied expectations all year long, beating teams that were supposed to be far superior. And although the Yankees have been weak, the rivalry with the Rays has filled the archenemy void nicely. I was at Fenway last weekend for game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay and the crowd taunted the right fielder as if he were A-Rod. Whether it’s Army-Navy (go Navy!) or Red Sox-Yankees, having a team that’s sweet to beat is part of what makes sports compelling.

And while rivalries make games interesting, making sure that there’s competition in politics is far more important. There has been so much ink given to the Rhode Island Republican gun raffle that I hesitate to wade into the critical waters (although I hear it’s warm), but the truth is that this is less about the wisdom of the raffle and more about the long-term consequences it will have on our state.

Some from the RIGOP view the gun raffle as a success: they raised thousands, showed support for the 2nd amendment and got more free media than the party has in recent memory. As the moderate Republicans scrambled to distance themselves from the party, I was left wondering whether the RIGOP is more concerned about being “right” or winning races. I can think of very few RI districts where a credible candidate needs to advocate for gun rights and dozens where the majority of voters want to see guns in the hands of law enforcement only. Making 2nd amendment rights a signature issue—even for a week—has dragged the party so far off message (which should still be jobs and the lackluster economy) that attracting viable candidates will be a chore.

Some of my Democratic friends would argue that the RIGOP is already irrelevant since certain members of the Democratic party are just like moderate Rhode Island Republicans anyway. While this may be true, the ranks of those centrist Democrats are thinning because they are targeted and “taken out” in low-interest, low-turnout primaries. For Rhode Island, the irrelevance of the RIGOP and the absence of moderate Democrats would mean that there’s no ideological voice of dissent on issues like tolling local bridges or unionizing daycare workers. Bottom line: we need discussion and debate to ensure a healthy representative democracy and we won’t have that without Republicans or moderates of either party.

As we settle into postseason baseball, I’ll be on the edge of my seat and excited to watch some great games between competitive teams.  At the same time, I’m rooting for candidates of every stripe to sign up and take a turn in our General Assembly.  Let’s hope that every party can field a good team and create enough debate so that the whole state wins.

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