George Steinbrenner, Mike Royko, and the Party of Crime

Before there was Donald Trump, there was George Steinbrenner. In the eyes of his fellow New Yorkers and of many others around the country, no public figure more closely resembled the south end of a horse headed north than Steinbrenner did.

Steinbrenner was the principal owner of the New York Yankees for 37 years, from 1973 until his death eight years ago. He purchased the club at a low point in its fortunes, labored to rebuild it, and led it to 11 American League pennants and seven World Series championships. Along the way, his meddlesome and imperious ways with managers and players became notorious, earning him the title “The Most Hated Man in Baseball.” (Steinbrenner’s enforcement of a military grooming code, for example, spilled a lot of tabloid ink, though anyone vaguely annoyed by today’s jarring assortment of players’ hairstyles—from shaved heads to mullets to dreadlocks and from goatees to mutton chops to Duck Dynasty beards—might look back to those days wistfully.)

Far more than Trump ever did, Steinbrenner loved to pronounce the words, “You’re fired!” As his Wikipedia bio puts it, he

quickly became famous for his rapid turnover of management personnel. In his first 23 seasons, he changed managers 20 times; Billy Martin alone was fired and rehired five times. During his first 26 years with the club, he went through 13 publicity directors. “The first time George fires you, it’s very traumatic,” oft-fired Yankees flack Harvey Greene said. “The three or four times after that, it’s like, Great! I’ve got the rest of the day off.”

I was reminded of Steinbrenner after reading a recent commentary from the longtime conservative commentator George F. Will, who two years ago decided there wasn’t room enough in the Republican Party for both Trump and himself, and consequently stalked off to NeverTrumpLand. Will this summer urged the election of Democratic majorities in Congress, and last week he distanced himself even further from his former comrades by coming out against capital punishment.

Even when fighting on the side of the angels, Will always cultivated a pompous, even snobbish, air. What was noticeable back when he was talking sense becomes more grating now, as he talks rot. And sometimes it’s been laughable. Once, during another low point in the Yankees’ fortunes, Will glared balefully at the Ogre of the Bronx, and his words provoked a gale of laughter from Will’s fellow Chicagoan Mike Royko:

Professor George Will, the prissy political commentator and self-styled baseball expert, squeaks that “Steinbrenner is a boor.” Oh, my, a boor. It’s enough to make one faint. Well, maybe he is. But at least he didn’t flunk out of Little League, as did Will, the sissy.

What bothers Will and many others is that the Yankees are now baseball’s wimpiest team. They say the Yankees are something special to America. Part of the national “fabric.” Professor Will talks about that national fabric so much, you’d think he was our national furniture upholsterer.

Will says: “To be blunt, Steinbrenner`s mismanagement of the Yankees matters much more than the mismanagement of the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees . . . are simply irreplaceable as carriers of a tradition that lends derivative glory to teams that compete against them.”

Well, lah-dee-dah, Professor Will . . .

The fun Royko had with Will’s phrase “derivative glory” should be savored in its entirety. As the Instapundit says, Read the Whole Thing.™  Royko, who passed away in 1997, was in his manner the anti-Will, especially when channeling his working-class drinking buddy, Slats Grobnik. Royko had it in for corruption and arrogance in politics, it’s true, but as a matter of style, I imagine he would have enjoyed the spectacle of President Donald Trump’s doings a great deal more than Will does.

One thing Royko would have had absolutely no use for is Will’s newfound opposition to capital punishment. Here Royko is, quoted by the legal writer Stuart Taylor in the National Journal:

Anything less than the death penalty [for murder] is an insult to the victim and society. It says . . . that we don’t value the victim’s life enough to punish the killer fully.

Class, more than anything else, is what separates Royko and Will. Royko hailed from the working class, Will from the professional-academic class. And that class distinction is not only what spares Will the fears and concerns that would have forbidden his apostasy on the death penalty; it’s also what explains the silence of opinion leaders generally, even those on the Right, about the one issue that looms so large among the Slats Grobniks of our country.

For example, here’s Roger Kimball, editor and publisher of The New Criterion and president and publisher of Encounter Books, extolling Trump’s first-term record in an article for American Greatness:

In less than two years, the United States has added some $10 trillion in wealth to its economy. Four million new jobs have been created, and unemployment has plummeted to historic lows. Consumer confidence has soared, while tax reform has put more money in the pockets of average Americans and turbocharged American businesses.

That’s all great, although as suggested by this headline—“Stock Crash Whispers . . . Execs selling shares at record pace . . . global profits peaked . . . Companies trading for more than 10x revenue”—it all could turn to ashes tomorrow. But what’s missing from Kimball’s list of Trump achievements?

Or consider this glass-half-empty perspective. How does his party’s record look to U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)? “Friend,” he wrote in a fundraising email for the House Freedom Fund:

Republicans in Congress make the job too complicated. I tell my colleagues it’s simple: DO WHAT WE SAID!

  •       We said we’d repeal Obamacare
  •       We said we’d secure the border
  •       We said we’d defund Planned Parenthood
  •       We said we’d cut spending
  •       We said we’d reform welfare

Yet none of these things have been accomplished.

We have an obligation to the voters who elected President Trump and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to DELIVER.

What didn’t Jordan mention? What didn’t Kimball mention? In a word, crime. Or, as an elderly, angry, cranky New Yorker once put it when calling in to a talk radio discussion of the causes of urban decay: “Crime!!!”

Trust Trump to hear what our elites, both Left and Right, can’t hear. At his recent rally in West Virginia, the president—speaking off the cuff, out of the blue, and without explanation—called the Democrats “the party of crime.”

Trump’s bill of particulars, while damning enough, didn’t actually have much to do with the Democrats’ involvement with crime. But “the party of crime” is a catchy phrase, no? It immediately made this tune pop into my head.

Trump could easily mine that “party of crime” vein in a full-length speech. I hope he will. And I’m glad to know that with Trump around, the Republican Party is less likely to head into November playing a Three Wise Monkeys act when it comes to crime. That, let no one forget, is how we booted a national election 10 years ago:

Had the GOP been thinking about crime, then when Obama’s rabid pastor Jeremiah Wright popped up, Republicans would have focused on the parts of the good reverend’s sermons that touched on law enforcement. Wright had bellowed: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and wants them to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No! No! No! Not God bless America! God damn America!” People were so shocked by the last part of that utterance, they neglected to attend to what led up to it. Had Republicans been thinking about crime, they’d have pressed Obama to explain whether he agrees with Wright’s opposition to bigger prisons and three-strike laws.

Likewise, GOP criticism of Obama’s radical colleague Bill Ayers would have emphasized, not the bombings from long ago, but the more recent—and more destructive—activities that brought these two left-wingers together. The Ayers book Obama praised was a soft-on-crime book; the conference on its themes, in which Ayers and Obama joined, was a soft-on-crime exercise; Obama’s work as an Illinois legislator was aimed at thwarting the tough-on-crime efforts of what he derided as the “industrial prison complex.” In short, Obama and Ayers were running interference for the Great Crime Wave. Obama’s rivals should have made him answer for that.

When Chicago’s surging murder rate made the news last summer, Republicans who were thinking about crime would have pointed out that the state of Illinois has not executed anyone since 1999. They’d have noted that in Texas—notorious as the nation’s execution capital—murder has been cut by almost two-thirds. They’d have asked Obama if he prefers the results of his state’s feckless hesitancy on capital punishment to the Texans’ manifest success with it.

When in June the Supreme Court disallowed the death penalty for child rapists, Obama was savvy enough to join his Republican rival John McCain in criticizing the ruling. One notices, however, that McCain’s model justices Roberts and Alito voted against that decision and Obama’s model justice Ginsburg voted for it. McCain in one speech did point out that little fact. But did he make it a theme of the fall campaign? Not at all.

Even with the election just weeks away, events continued to beg for a renewed focus on crime. In October, a Marine sergeant and his wife were bound, gagged, tortured and shot to death in their California home. Actress Jennifer Hudson’s mother and brother were slain in their home in Obama’s crime-ridden Chicago. A popular TV anchorwoman was beaten to death in her home in Little Rock, Arkansas. From the GOP, not a word.

Republicans, do you want to turn the Democrats’ hoped-for “blue wave” this year into a “red tide” for the GOP? Then make like that elderly New York gentleman. Stick your head out the window, climb up to the rooftop, and shout “Crime!!!” for all to hear.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.

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