One of the more egregious crimes in sports is being a fair-weather fan: when the team is good, the offender can recite the roster; when they are bad, the offender couldn’t name a starter. This gnaws at the faithful. A certain mixture of territorialism and jealousy coalesces into determined resentment of the new-comers. It works on two levels: team and sport. Over the last half-decade, Red Sox faithful have watched their “Nation” balloon as pink-hatted amateurs clog the concession lines and cheer at the wrong times during games. No coincidence this trend started when the team ended their famous World Series drought in 2004. Hockey fans—those that can skate or have dug their car out of a snow drift—may watch a team from Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup with throngs of tanned faces sporting new t-shirts checking their phones during power plays, and give a wry grimace of contempt. Both scenarios elicit the same gut response: “Hey pal, we’ve been here since the beginning. We’re here because we love the game and really care about it. We didn’t check in when it was convenient. So…GO AWAY.”
And with that in mind, one needs to take a hard look at Meg Whitman as governor of California. In theory, the idea of a business manager in politics makes a great deal of sense. The structures, strategies, cash flows and cost centers are not the same, but similar enough that the manager of one of the most successful firms of the last decade is infinitely more qualified than the Terminator (or the Gipper). The problem is that in practice you elect a manager plus a herd of LinkedIn connections. However this not the reason for the hard look.
In every political race there are myriad meaningless factoids about candidates for why they are “unfit for office.” George W. Bush’s 20-year-prior DUI, John Kerry’s “debatable” Vietnam record, John McCain’s “illegitimate child” in 2000 and Barack Obama’s “suspicious ties” were all silly, if not offensive distractions (if not disgustingly racist in McCain’s case). So as it came to light that Whitman never voted in the American political system until 2002, I had to give it a once (and twice) over and ask myself if this really matters. And it does. Her illegal immigrant nanny? No—kudos for giving someone work who needs it. But not voting? It does matter.
When a long-time fan sees a fair-weather fan at a game, the core of their resentment is the “you weren’t here during the bad times,” and the new-comer may rightfully say, “I’m here now. You don’t have to know that Jim Rice won the MVP in 1976 to appreciate the homerun David Ortiz hit five seconds ago.” And they’d have a fair point. As much as sportswriters love to discuss history, it has a short reach into the modern game.
But in politics, knowing history is important, having felt history even more. So when we see a fair-weather politician, the “you weren’t there” holds water, because being there matters. Until she was 46, Whitman never voted on one of California’s (obscenely abundant) ballot measures. She never voted for governor; she didn’t even vote in California’s circus of a recall vote in 2005. She never voted for a United States President—not even Ronald Reagan. And you know why? She didn’t care. I’ve never met her but that is the reason; it can be the only reason. Even the working-mom CEO of eBay can take an hour from her day to participate in democracy. So hearing that she wants to be the CEO of California, by the same system she snubbed for two decades (and she is very sorry about it, calling it “atrocious”), one gets the whiff of someone on trial suddenly finding religion. It’s not real—it’s convenient.
So the response here is: “You’re naïve if you think anyone in politics is really in it for the love of the game and not flapping in the winds of outside interests.” And (*sigh*) that’s probably true. But it doesn’t mean we can’t still use it as a yardstick in gauging our candidates. Choosing our government, however large their LinkedIn network, is an exquisite right that upon glancing around the world, we should never stop being thankful for. Whitman never cared enough to take part in that system or exercise that right until it was politically expedient; that makes her LinkedIn network all the more menacing. And as far as I can tell, they’ll just clog California’s concession lines and cheer at the wrong times.
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Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at