Friday, March 25, 2005

Congressmembers on (financial) steroids

First an admission. I love the San Francisco Giants. I even love Barry Bonds, the ball player even if I wouldn't want him for my friend. The thrills I got from watching Barry crush a pitch into McCovey Cove was and continues to be worth the steroids. I support his efforts at success and won't ask questions.

But keep reading because this isn't just a defense of the Giants. It was typically pollyannish of Congress to attack the players last week. First, they obviously have no interest in really doing anything beyond embarrassing a few guys just for political capital. We all already know that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Roger Clemens and every other mammoth athlete do either steroids or a legal supplement that lets them do the same thing. The only goal of that hearing was to embarrass a few guys so we can feel good about ourselves.

But second, let's get real about cheating in America. Its as American as apple pie, and if you are like me--I dont like apple pie--then its even more so. Almost everyone does it, and congressmembers are as guilty as anyone this side of corporate CEOs. Whether you are a political scientist or not, we know the myriad of ways in which congressmembers have used the juice to insulate themselves from competitive elections. To paraphrase the nostalgic members' statements last week, what happened to the good old days when a candidate didn't need hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests to get elected, when they didn't benefit from gerrymandering and all the perks of incumbency. How are any of the ways in which they have become financial versions of a blown-up Sammy Sosa different than ball players using steroids--is soft money any less of a loophole? To paraphrase Jim Bunning, I remember (actually, I dont remember, but stay with me here for the effect) the days when as congressmembers got older, they lost elections.

Even more ridiculous is the fear of what steroids is doing to youth in America. It's too late. High school students are on their own form of roids to get high SAT scores, benefitting from expensive tutors, rydalin, and mental disabilities (which have risen significantly within the most advantaged communities of society--every rich kid these days seems to have some type of learning disorder that allows him or her an extra hour to take the SAT). Lets not even talk about the grade inflation that is an epidemic in the last 20 years. And lets talk about high school sports--how many kids are taking growth hormones and other legal supplements to get bigger and bigger. How are we going to stop parents who create robotic babies-kids like Todd Marinovich.

I'm as opposed to cheating as the next person. (Though, given my own dreams of playing baseball, had I read Canseco's book as a kid, I might have thought twice--but I'm too afraid of needles.) I just don't think we should kid ourselves and feel self-satisfied when we bring down a few ballplayers. This is part of a far bigger national problem, one that no doubt dates past the days of nostalgia that all of our elderly congressmembers and media seem to think they remember so well. Instead our response is typically American--respond to the media scandal, feign outrage, punish 5-6 people, let everyone else continue to cheat, and do nothing to solve the bigger problem. God bless America!

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