Why Do We Care If Jeanne Shaheen Is a Real Bruins Fan?

An innocuous tweet set off a battle.

New Hampshire politicos have spent the past few days humorlessly determining the all-important question of whether Senator Jeanne Shaheen is a real Boston Bruins fan, straining as much as they can to explain why this is an important issue to sort out. It began innocently enough, with a tweet from the Senator after the Bruins win on Saturday:

This yielded a strangely vitriolic response from the New Hampshire GOP’s account.

Their response was bizarre enough to garner several news stories. Rather than simply sit back and let the Republican Party look utterly lacking in subtlety or wit, the Democrats felt a need to respond with an attack of their own.

“It’s 2014, and the New Hampshire Republican Party is still peddling sexist comments straight out of the 1950s,” Julie McClain, Communications Director for the state’s Democratic party wrote to Boston.com. “You don’t see them questioning any men about their support for the Bruins.”

This was not just an awkwardly rageful tweet, it was a sexist awkwardly rageful tweet. The GOP, not one to be outdone, responded in kind that this was more than a moment for eye-rolling. It was evidence of dishonesty!

“Senator Shaheen must have very little respect for the intelligence of women if she expects us to buy that excuse for her dishonest behavior,” Jennifer Horn, chair of the state’s GOP, told Boston.com. (Classifying a staff authored tweet as “dishonest behavior” is probably not a can of worms either political party wants to open, even if it is less authentic than a pocket tweet.)

What’s all this concern over Shaheen’s sports fan status? Or, sorry, the sexism/dishonesty of the other party, which is apparently what this is really all about? Is it worrying that she can’t do the great work of the United States Senate, like sponsoring bills congratulating the Bruins on their Stanley Cup Win? (She and Scott Brown sponsored just such a bill in 2011.) Perhaps it is that her opponent Brown has benefited from the ham-handed sports talk of his Democratic opponent before. You’ll recall Martha Coakley’s inability to keep her foot out of her mouth any time the Red Sox came up during the special election she lost to him in 2010. Perhaps Brown’s supporters think he can rework his magic with some combination of dissatisfaction with Obamacare and an opponent who thinks Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan.

Evidence suggests, though, that this would be a mistake. It makes sense that the GOP is attacking Shaheen not for being a hockey rube (which she insists she is not) but for being insincere about it. Insincerity, rather than loose knowledge of sports per se, appears to have been the problem with Coakley. Mayor Tom Menino, who could not have been worse at speaking knowledgeably about his sports-obsessed city’s athletes if he had tried, remained one of the longest-running and most popular mayors on the books.

But the Menino example also suggests that voters care about more than the ardor of their politicians for Boston’s sports teams. Evidence suggests Coakley lost for reasons more important than her fear of Yawkey Way handshakes. Both parties can pretend this spat was about more than hockey. (It was about sexism/honesty!) But perhaps these battles are better waged on a topic more public policy-oriented, anyway.