Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lights, Camera, Loss of Faith in Representative Democracy

Today is the unofficial start of baseball spring training in Florida and Arizona, but you’d never know it from the major media outlets. Today is all about Roger Clemens. I’m still going to refrain from direct commentary, but I found verbose blogger Joe Posnanski’s angle on yesterday’s hearings to be interesting. Though he covered a lot of ground (and he always does), his main focus was not on Clemens or McNamee, or even Andy Pettitte, but on the lawmakers who were questioning them. Joe included this particularly apt assessment of questioning by William Lacy Clay (D-Mo):

Ugh. He filled two suck-up roles in this proceedings — first he asked the obligatory, “Roger, what should we tell the kids,” question which did allow Clemens to get on his high horse and talk about how he has always taken very, very seriously the responsibility of being a role model for children, you know, except for that time he threw the bat at Mike Piazza or the time cursed out the umpire or threw the ball at Piazza’s head or the time he whined about carrying his own luggage or made that really hilarious remark about Asians during the World Baseball Classic or was popping Vioxx or whatever. Still, it was touching.

Posnanski points out that Clay followed up by asking what uniform Clemens was planning on wearing into the Hall of Fame. This is the quality of character you get in places like the Missouri 1st District, where elections are about as competitive as they are in Parador.

The whole incident reminded me that aside from Mark McGwire’s evasiveness and Raphael Palmiero’s finger wagging (which was only memorable in light of subsequent events), my lasting memory of the last time that ballplayers appeared before Congress was of just how dumb the Representatives sounded. Lots of grandstanding and posturing and softball questions. Yesterday was more of the same.

Come to think of it, my strongest memory of the Clarence Thomas hearings (salacious details about Coke cans aside) is the hazy blabbering of Howell Heflin and the clueless slurring cue card recitations of Strom Thurmond. I’m having trouble remembering the last time that there were widely televised congressional hearings where members of congress came out looking good. I’ve seen obscure hearings on C-SPAN and in person, and they were much more informed and productive that what we see when the whole world is watching. For the most part, these are really smart people, but they can’t stay away from television cameras to save themselves, and once people are performing for the cameras, something turns them stupid. Little wonder that the Supreme Court continues to exclude cameras from the courtroom under most circumstances.

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