Nothing signals the start of the baseball season more than the soothing, melodic voice of legendary Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully. While his calls of historic feats have been legendary (Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s perfect game), the moment that stands out among Scully aficionados is when he described the status of a player wth a bruised knee as “day to day.” Scully paused, and then asked, “Aren’t we all?”
At the start of the baseball season, hope also springs eternal for the field of potential GOP presidential candidates who are gearing up to launch their presidential bids in the spring. But like Scully’s epic “day to day” quip, the GOP has turned into a day-to-day party and it is an image these presidential aspirants must work to change. Republicans have too often been reactionary—and thus held captive to events—instead of being forward-thinking and proactive. The GOP has lately been a party of nearsighted tactics devoid of any overarching strategy. But in the immediate, the GOP and its representatives have simply just forgotten how to speak effectively and compellingly to Americans. As the presidential sweepstakes kick off, all potential candidates would do themselves a big favor if they listened to nine innings of Vin Scully. And here are five lessons that they can learn from him while doing so:
1. Be storytellers
It is often said that the Irish make successful politicians because they can tell such wonderful stories. It is fitting that Ronald Reagan was Irish, just like Scully. Reagan was able to skillfully paint pictures of the past (describing the American Rangers at Point du Hoc), the present (painting the entrepreneur as the protagonist who battles a stifling and inflexible government bureaucracy), and the future (wondering whether future generations of Americans will have the same freedoms Americans currently enjoy).
In baseball, there is no better storyteller than Scully. In a half inning alone, he can whimsically recall how the game was played in Brooklyn, make the viewer care about Dominican baseball players who learned how to play baseball by using gloves made from discarded milk cartons, and, whenever the camera lens finds a hopeful-looking child in the stands, wonder about the child’s future.
The GOP currently lacks spokesmen who can articulate America’s continuing narrative and why voters should trust Republicans to write America’s upcoming chapters.
2. Don’t be homers
If the word “homer” has an equivalent in politics, it would be “hack,” someone who blindly toes the company line. The most disconcerting thing about many of today’s baseball announcers is how unabashedly they root for their home teams. It comes off as tacky when nobody from the home team can do anything wrong in the eyes of the announcer and nobody from the other team can do anything right.
Viewers have no doubts that Scully loves the Dodgers, but he never tells the audience that he does. He always calls the game as a neutral announcer.
The GOP must learn how to pull off this same act. They need to put the country’s interest first while remaining enthusiastic conservatives.
This point is more important if the GOP is serious about courting the Millennial Generation, whose vote share will increase with each future election. These voters disdain double-talk and are constantly in search of “authenticity,” “realness,” or “street cred.”
If GOP spokesmen become less hackish and unctuously political, they will draw a greater share of independent voters whose guts are more conservative than liberal.
3. Earn the trust of minorities
I once taught a constitutional law class at a juvenile detention facility. During one of my classes, a Mexican student quipped that though there is tension between blacks and Mexicans on Los Angeles’ streets, the one person both groups would unite to defend would be “the Dodgers announcer.”
Scully has such unquestioned respect among people of all races because it is unquestionably evident he respects everyone, that he can take verbal jabs at Dominican players who swing wildly at pitches outside the strike zone (“You can’t walk off the island,” he’ll often say), or African-American or Asian players, and members of those groups will hear his words as being race or color neutral.
And even laugh with him.
The GOP must similarly get to the same point with minority voters, who will comprise a majority of the electorate in two decades and who swung nearly two to one toward Democrats in the last election.
4. Make every voter feel you are talking to him
In an age when broadcast announcers idly chit chat with their broadcast partner, Scully still calls every game by himself and establishes an intimate one-on-one relationship with his listeners. The best politicians convincingly allow those to whom they speak feel as if they are the only person in the room (this was often said of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton), and everyone who listens to Scully comes away believing Scully just had a one-on-one conversation with him.
5. Don’t look at the clock
Baseball, unlike other sports, does not have a running clock, and Scully’s announcing style embodies this. If a non-baseball fan tunes into a Dodgers game this summer, it will be impossible for him to discern whether the Dodgers are 10 games ahead or 20 games behind in the division because Scully will call the game with the same infectious enthusiasm that he infuses into every broadcast. Sometimes, it is impossible to tell from his cadence whether the Dodgers are ahead or behind in that very game.
Republicans have currently lost this sense of optimism and enthusiasm. The country faces many threats, particularly regarding fiscal issues and cultural issues, especially concerning what it means to be an American. And while it is right to harp on these threats, the GOP needs messengers who can just as easily talk about how America’s clock will never run out rather than constantly harping on how America will go the way of Rome or how this century will be “China’s century.”
Pessimism may draw short-term ratings, but optimism sells and is enduring. Republican presidential candidates should always keep this in mind.