POST-GAZETTE -- Res Publica

A Day at the Races

by David Trumbull

April 23, 2004

Live thoroughbred racing returns, Saturday, May 1, to East Boston's Suffolk Downs. That day will also see the 130th running of the famous derby race in the City of Louisville in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. [Quick political quiz: Which four states of the Union are officially styled "commonwealths?"] There's little better in this life than an afternoon at the track, especially if it is a warm sunny Saturday in May.

"Horse race" coverage --who's ahead in the opinion polls, who's trailing in the polls--is how the media reporting on presidential elections is disparaged. From what I can see it's true. It's difficult to find the "news" reporting the candidates' positions on the issues, or explaining the significance of those positions. That's a big part of why President Bush and Senator Kerry will both spend tens of millions of dollars in the run for the White House. With the free media saying so little of substance, it falls to the candidates to pay for television time to educate the voters. You can just hear the typical news reporting, "They're off and it's Bush in the lead. And now they're at the first turn and Kerry is pulling ahead. And now they're in the straight-away and Bush is in the lead again followed by Kerry and Nader nagging in the rear."

Actually, it is a nasty slur on the racing industry, handicappers, and the wagering public to compare, to a horse race, the national press coverage of a presidential election. You'll learn a great deal more about the condition of the entries and their history on the track by reading the Daily Racing Form than you'll ever learn about George W. Bush or any other candidate by reading the Boston Globe or the New York Times (to name two "papers of record").

As anyone who has placed a two-dollar bet on a horse knows, when the announcer says, "They're off!" it's too late to place any bets. Before post-time is when the spectator has the chance to study the horses, make his selection, and give his money to the man or woman at the betting counter. I have a friend who always bets on number five. Sometimes number five comes in; more often the horse is out of the money. Sometimes I think Bay State voters are like my friend. They don't study the entries. They just vote the way they always have. So far, from observing the state legislature in action, I'd say that voting strategy is about as successful as my friend's wagering strategy.

You have a choice on November 2. Don't get distracted with the national media's obsession with opinion polls and sound-bites. Read the program. Find out who the candidates are and what they stand for. Too many Americans spend more time picking out a horse in a race, or a team to back in some sporting event, than they spend learning about the candidates whose actions in office will affect, for good or ill, their lives and the lives of their families.

Quiz answer: Commonwealth of Kentucky, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Commonwealth of Virginia.

David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.