In April of 1947 the owners of the Yankees and the Red Sox (Dan Topping and Tom Yawkey, respectively) spent a night getting lubricated at Toots Shor’s, a then famous New York restaurant and bar. During the course of the evening Topping and Yawkey agreed to trade Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio, effectively settling god only knows how many arguments in neighborhood bars all over the sports fan world. Each man played in a home park that was a detriment to their already awesome level of play. The belief was that by swapping uniforms they would each have a chance to play half their schedule in a stadium suited perfectly to their skills. In doing so, the teams’ fans could finally see which of the two was the better hitter. No more claims of superiority leavened with situationally oriented excuses. In the world of sports, that kind of transaction is referred to as a challenge trade. The reasons for this are pretty obvious and the willingness to go through with it is a good test of each sides commitment to their stated position. Or so I’ve been told. As a Mets fan I’ve seldom had the pleasure to root for a team that had a player that any other team would want that desperately. Still I can remember talk, after the 1986 season of trading Daryl Strawberry straight up for either Barry Bonds or Tony Gwynn. It didn’t go anywhere but those are classic challenge trade scenarios.
As I’ve gotten older I realize that so many of our socio/political conflicts might end up in a much better place if the participants were willing to stake out their positions in this fashion. This is something most of us end up doing in our personal and professional lives one way or another. If you’ve ever decided to give someone “enough rope to hang themselves” with, that is on some level a challenge trade. Negotiating a raise or promotion on the basis of committing to an achievement your employer thinks is unlikely to occur (increased production, enhanced credentialing) is a challenge trade. The beauty of the transaction is that it allows people with diametrically opposed views on a subject to bring those differences to a terminal place. You agree on terms which usually have an “if” and a “then” attached and see what happens. You produce and are rewarded or you don’t. If some circumstance that you claimed was a necessity has been extended to you, you turn that consideration into a positive or you end up swinging from a lasso of your own design, metaphorically speaking. It isn’t a perfect solution to any problem but it does give every one a chance to bet on their own beliefs. It also compels a certain level of quiet in the aftermath. There’s a reason this kind of thing is colloquially referred to as put up or shut up.
Understanding that public policy is intrinsically more complex than any workplace bargaining that we as individuals might engage in it strikes me that at least at a philosophical level, there is still a place for this kind of thinking in the legislative arena. Acknowledging that the actual machinations of lawmaking will never allow for a final product that is this simple doesn’t preclude us from looking for some one who has the courage to at least begin the conversation in this fashion. For as long as I can remember, most of the rhetoric concerning US immigration policy has boiled down to a fight between “they’re here for free stuff and low end jobs” on one side of the aisle and “they lift our economy and want to assimilate” on the other. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear somebody in congress posit the idea the argument had reached an impasse and the nation deserved an answer? That a reform in policy in which the borders were opened in proportion to a restricting of various social support programs seemed to be the best way to figure out which camp had a better grasp of the reality of the situation. Easier to get in, harder to receive a check. Mobility for subsidy. There’s a thought. The piece of legislation that started in that place would be notably different when it came to pass. I get it. I can’t help but think that it would still be miles ahead of the dog vomit stew that we live with now. There are lots of other issues on the political landscape that might benefit from an approach which, at it’s heart, is a way of giving someone with an opposing viewpoint what they want most without actually conceding anything of importance to yourself. Fighting over taxes, no biggie. Just accept that marginal and estate rates should move in the opposite direction from each other. Feeling that some group is in need of protected classification, recognize that there is an inherent loss of autonomy that will probably come with that.
If the whole enterprise seems a bit risky, that’s the point. Seeing as how most of us are not particularly well served by the government we’re living with, a low level of risk is more honest appraisal than change in status. There is an up side to this that is not issue specific. The garbage that we send to the the district(or city hall for that matter) might end up having to try talking out of one side of their mouths for a change. Who knows, what starts there might end up with a better class of human being seeking office. As it is the race to the bottom is the only bi-partisan activity the voting public can count on. If good old non-apology, tit grabbing Al Franken versus “pubic hair ruins everything” Roy Moore is the current landscape I’d say we don’t really have all that much to risk anyway.
The day after Topping and Yawkey agreed to the greatest trade that never was, Yawkey started to worry that he wouldn’t be able to sell it to the Boston fans, so he asked the Yankees to throw in an extra player to make it happen. Some little Italian kid they had playing left field. Topping said no and that was that. Williams never got to take aim at the short porch; DiMaggio never played pepper with the green monster. Not that I blame Topping. I wouldn’t have traded Yogi either. But it would’ve been fun to see who was right after all.