Anybody keeping score of which party controls the first few innings of the confirmation debate should make note of how many times "baseball" gets repeated in the political chatter over the next 48 hours.
When a new President mentions baseball twice in the first few minutes of his first Supreme Court nominee event, it is not a coincidence. To make sure his first nominee makes it through a potentially ugly confirmation process, President Obama is wrapping the debate in one of the most popular symbols of American life: baseball.
Obama's first mention of "baseball" came when he referenced her 1995 opinion that ended the baseball strike. That decision, which Sotomayor issued after only 15 minutes of deliberation, ruled in favor of the players against team owners, thereby allowing the baseball season to start.
Obama's second mention of "baseball" came in the section of his remarks about the judge having been raised in South Bronx public housing. With a glint in his eye, Obama described Sotoymayor's home as being just a few minutes away from Yankee Stadium, which he hoped would not be a problem for Mets fans.
Two mentions of baseball in Obama's first at bat.
MSNBC's Chuck Todd caught the references, remarking to Chris Matthews in the post-announcement commentary:
They mentioned baseball, they mentioned mom, the only thing they left out was 'apple pie.'
Minutes later, during a phone-in interview with MSNBC, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) hit the baseball symbolism out of the park:
Anybody who saved baseball for America, deserves America's warm consideration.
A few minutes later, Klobuchar again invoked the strategic symbolism, calling Sotomayor "the savior of baseball."
Although it may seem like a glib reference to sports, "baseball" is one of the most far-reaching and widely accepted symbols of American life. As a national symbol, it evokes positive feeling for a majority of Americans, bringing to mind positive images of childhood, summertime, cheering crowds, tradition, community, inspiration, and family.
"Family" and Sotomayor has already been an important strand of the baseball symbol emphasized by the White House. During his remarks, for example, Obama made reference to Sotomayor's upbringing by a single mom who worked multiple jobs -- a biographical fact remarkably similar to his own background.
The theme of a public servant raised by a selfless mother was then repeated during the first few minutes of Sotomayor's own remarks:
I have often said, that I am all I am because of her. And I am only half the woman that she is.
At least half the country will smile when they watch the media clip of Judge Sotomayor making that tribute to her mom.
Judge Sotomayor then went on to explain that the "principles" of the founding fathers had been a guiding light that inspired her whole life.
The symbolism surrounding Obama's first nominee to the Supreme Court, in other words, is not just baseball, but the patriotic grand slam of "baseball, mom, and the Constitution."
Another sign that the White House chosen symbolism for Sotomayor is holding the debate could be the media repetition of the word "empathy" -- a quality many Americans associate with mothers, and which the media is already describing as a personal quality Judge Sotomayor gleaned from her upbringing.
Republicans, for their part, will likely try to shift the Sotomayor confirmation debate away from "baseball" and "mom" and towards "liberal extremism." Chances are good that they will strike out in this effort, unable to connect against the power of the symbolism thrown by the White House.
In the end, a debate about Sotomayor that stays centered on positive, core American symbols will be welcomed by most Americans, and will likely tilt the discussion in favor of the White House. Given that the Supreme Court nomination process already favors a president, the White House use of "baseball" may be the key to getting Sotomayor around the Congressional bases and into the biggest, big league, nine-player starting lineup in the land.
(cross posted from Frameshop)