May 18, 2005

Who Needs Ideas? We’ve got Moneyball

From a TNR piece by Noam Scheiber about Berkeley linguist and Democratic strategist George Lakoff:

Lakoff suggests thinking about politics the way Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager featured in Michael Lewis's book Moneyball, thinks about building a baseball team. Beane's philosophy is that no single player is particularly important. The idea is to pick the nine players who collectively produce the most runs. Likewise, in Lakoff's telling, specific policies are less important than the larger goal of conveying the right set of values.
Is it just me, or is “we’re applying the lessons of ‘Moneyball’” the most tiresome, overused cliché of the year? We’ve seen the book's philosophy applied to other sports, investing, business, law school rankings, and now politics, and on almost all occasions the “application” has either been crushingly obvious, or a complete misinterpretation of what the book actually said.

First there was Mark Cuban seeking to apply Moneyball to the NBA, even though Cuban's actual player personnel philosophy (drastically overpaying for free agents) is the exact opposite of Beane’s. And now we’ve got Lakoff, whose theories have been gaining lots of traction in Democratic circles of late, applying a relatively minor part of the Beane philosophy to theoretical electoral victory. That’s really not what the book is about at all- and wouldn’t a more faithful application of “Moneyball” to politics be a candidate winning by playing smart despite raising less money like, say, Paul Wellstone’s Senate race in 1990?

No wonder the Democrats, like Beane’s A’s, seem to always lose in the first round…

Posted by Stephen Silver at May 18, 2005 12:22 AM
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