Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lying liars tellin lies

"Roger Clemens"

For those of you haven't followed former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemen's recent attempts to deny using steroids, I can only say you've missed the planet's best soap opera for boys EVER. (If you need background here is more than you probably wanted to know.)

In his career Clemens won 354 games & 7 Cy Young awards. He was a shoo in for the Hall of Fame until it became clear that at the end he owed at least part of that record to injections of steroids & human growth hormones. Not that a lot of us --especially middle-aged men -- have any trouble understanding why he'd want to do that. Like tragic heroes throughout history, Clemens craved more -- more wins, more records, more adulation -- & he was losing his edge. Of course he wanted to get it back, especially since dozens, if not hundreds, of younger, less skilled & disciplined players were shooting steroids & racking up records of their own. So he stepped over the line.

But, trust me, this is no tragedy. This is not Lear in pin-stripes. In fact, this does not pass the hubris laugh test. It's a story of a big bloviating bully, a creature of the George W. Bush era, a man who believes with Cheney & the Neo Cons that in the endless war of life, constant pitiless aggression, unhindered by rules of any kind, is the only way to go.

Clemens shot up steroids but got older anyway. By 46 he knew he was done dominating the twenty somethings. He understood that all he had left now, aside from his billions, was the role of American Hero (Sports' God edition). Apparently, Clemens thought there was a lot of mileage left in the part. He thought that, played in tandem with his other major role, American Patriot (vehement pro-Iraq War edition), he was unbeatable at the box office of public opinion. He would be worshipped for the rest of his life.

"Roger Clemens & his lawyers," Susan Etheridge for the NY Times

Clemens decided to simply deny the whole ugly scandal. He would take a page from Karl Rove's playbook & lie boldly & loudly, over & over & over, face to face with those whose power mattered & via a cynical press to the man in the street. He would claim he was never (never!) injected with steroids. At the same time he & his hirelings would disparage & accuse anyone who might be made to take the blame. These included, in addition to Brian McNamee, the adoring "strength coach" who had procured & administered the drugs, Andy Pettite, a younger pitcher who Clemen had publicly mentored, & even Clemens's wife.

Before he appeared at the Congressional hearings on steroid use, Clemens made the rounds of the committee members. Politicians are by definition big supporters of American Heros , so it's maybe not a surprise how many of them were dazzled by Clemens's broad shoulders & mythic deeds. Still, I was genuinely startled by the news accounts of their simpering & autograph hounding. Oh shit, I thought, he was going to get away with it.

"Roger Clemens before his testimony," AP Photo, All rights reserved

Then came his testimony. It was by all accounts a disaster. Blustery & rude when challenged, completely unable to plausibly explain the evidence against him, Clemens seemed genuinely outraged that some committee members didn't believe in his outrage. His logic seemed to be, "I'm a Superstar American Hero & I'm here -- I'm volunteering -- to help clean up this disgusting mess -- so how could I be lying?" This seemed to work with a number of committee Republicans (or maybe their toad-like behavior had to do with Clemens's well-advertised friendship with his fellow Texans, the Bush family). In any case the Republicans adhered faithfully to the current Bush administration's doctrine of openly supporting the rich & powerful against the poor & unconnected & spent their time excoriating steroid "drug dealers," etc. To their credit most of the Democrats made it clear they believed Clemens was lying. Most of the press didn't believe him either. The man on the street (one poll I saw said 90%) also thought he was lying.

But before we celebrate the triumph of truth, a word of caution. This isn't over & its ending is not ordained. One account I read suggests that Clemens's lawyers would only have allowed him to so blithely perjure himself if they knew he could count on a pardon from President Bush. Hey, it's possible. He gave one to Libby. Still, I'm encouraged.

Frankly, I don't give a damn who does & doesn't get into the Hall of Fame. But I do think that a public liar should be shown to be a liar. Otherwise, it gets dangerous. Not long ago, remember, we weren't able to make it stick that Cheney, Rumsfeld & Bush were liars. Could we be moving away, even slightly, from the national disgrace of that? Could our recent Big Lie period of American history be on the wane? Or is it just that on TV George W. Bush plays a better hombre from Texas than Roger Clemens does?

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