Friday, December 14, 2007

Baseball Scandal May Be Metaphor For A Dark Side Of The American Dream

It was explained to me long ago by a Republican lawyer ex-friend. This was an old-time high school bud whom I was taking to task for, during private political discussions, not adhering to standards of formal logic or straight-line reasoned discourse. He even admitted to me, under one-to-one "questioning," that he resorted quite regularly to logical fallacies (such as the old "either/or") while at work in the courtroom.

If you wish to be a gentleman, to play by the rules, that's your prerogative, he explained to me further. The important thing, he went on, IS TO WIN.

A subculture of jocks juicing up on steroids may at first seem to have little to do with this inclination in American culture. And I'm sure the tendency to cheat is not exclusive to ours. But this man, competing on a very different playing field, summed up what was, and is, wrong in terms of values. Many among us are competitive types who love to win. I am no exception. But shouldn't it be a meaningless, hollow victory if you've cheated to do it?


By now Americans have pretty much heard from the MSM on former Sen. George Mitchell's report about past steroid abuse in Major League Baseball. The findings were far-reaching, and should be enough to sour a lot of formerly ingenuous hero-worshipping kids on this sport for a generation, since we now know that many of the records, Cy Young Awards and MVPs of the past 20 years were likely dope-fueled.

The names include Bonds, Clemens, Giambi, Justice, Pettitte, Vaughn, and on and on. It reads like the roster for a couple of All-Star teams.

What struck me is that this seems to reflect only one dark aspect of the greater American Dream, as if a metaphor for a seamy bigger side of it.

This seemed to start happening about the same time in politics. Politics in America, admittedly, has always been a full-contact sport. In the 1988 presidential campaign, the late Lee Atwater (He of the malignant brain -- I always thought that tumor was probably benign) set a new standard of slime with the Willie Horton smears against Michael Dukakis. Then the Clinton administration wasn't spotless by any means, but it was subjected to eight years of constant harassment by people alleging everything from "the Vince Foster murder" to Clinton supposedly holding up air traffic while getting a haircut. (That turned out to be an astounding urban legend, yet many still believe it.)

Corporate behavior started growing more malefic around that time, too, and got much worse. The names on that report would include Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco International, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, HealthSouth, Siemens AG, etc. In other words, the All-Stars of Corporate America, caught cheating.

Then, we have American politics, Part II: a president who was essentially appointed to the job by the Supreme Court. An administration that lied our way into a war, for purposes that executives at Halliburton might be able to explain better than Bush's mouthpieces can. An administration that is robbing middle-income people while giving rich individuals lavish breaks. An administration that is covering up for torture methods and is rolling back constitutional rights. An administration that collectively smiled like a Cheshire cat while right-wing kooks "swift-boated" men like John Kerry and Max Cleland. An administration that feels quite justified in saying anything, anytime, without respect for the truth, because the important thing IS TO WIN.

The tainted baseball jocks may seem to some a metaphorical stretch, but I don't think they are. They personify a loss of basic honor, a thing that has gone tragically wrong with the American character, on all sorts of playing fields.

It is great to win. But it matters HOW, and it is of fundamental importance that America rediscovers this. Ask Barry Bonds in about 20 years -- or for that matter, Hank Aaron right now -- if they believe that the ends truly justify the means.

Postscript: I noticed that John Rocker was on the list of implicated baseball players. What Rocker needed was a performance-enhancing drug for his brain. That would have been far more valuable to him.

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.