Politics & Policy

Waxman at the Bat

A ballad of the Republic sung in the year 2008.

Yesterday’s inquisition of Roger Clemens had people all over America raptly watching — on televisions, computers, PDAs, cell phones. Last time we had something this good, you watched on the box, or not at all. Ain’t progress wonderful?

But the content of Clemens v. McNamee couldn’t match the technology that delivered it — which made it typical of the times, I suppose. This wasn’t Hiss v. Chambers or U.S. Army v. McCarthy. It wasn’t Watergate, and it wasn’t even Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress (though there was a DNA angle) which was, in the end, pretty inconsequential and sleazy. We all knew the Republic would endure.

Wednesday’s entertainment was about … baseball. The might and majesty of Congress was focused on the question of whether or not a legendary fastballer used drugs to give himself an edge and a second career. And to determine, of course, whether or not he had lied about this. What would we do without perjury laws? We might not have been able to get Martha Stewart off the streets.

An august congressional committee — headed by one of the nation’s most persistent nuisances, Henry Waxman — met in public session for the purpose of grandstanding and showboating. No, let me be fair — this is Congress, where they do the American people’s serious business. Waxman’s committee met to find out if Roger Clemens lied when he said he had never used steroids and other “performance-enhancing” drugs, as his former trainer and chief accuser, Brian McNamee — who sat the same table with Clemens, separated by someone who looked like an inspector for the FDA — had charged. Waxman and his committee were in deadly earnest. Congress takes a dim view of lying done by anyone who is not a member and, therefore, licensed to do it.

Some of us who strayed off ESPN, CNN, MSNBC, and the other venues that were giving their full attention to the Clemens drama were struck by another news story — one given much less play than the hearings. It seems a car bomb in Damascus had sent one Imad Mughniyah to meet his maker. Mughniyah was one of the most elusive and accomplished terrorists in the world, linked to all sorts of outrages going as far back as the destruction of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon some 25 years ago. He was the Roger Clemens of HVTs (high-value targets), and the world is a vastly better and safer place without him.

It is fair to assume that authorities in Damascus knew Mughniyah was there. Just about the only thing that does work in Syria is its intelligence service. In recent months, two high-ranking members of Congress — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and designated Senate camera-hog Arlen Specter — traveled to Damascus and met with Syria’s dictator to see if they couldn’t makes things a little smoother between that country and the U.S. government. Just doing their jobs. Congress being helpful.

Better, one thinks, that Congress should be investigating baseball — and showboats like Dan Burton should be picking on Brian McNamee for his admitted lies –than its members going abroad and making asses not just of themselves but of the whole nation. Whittaker Chambers was an admitted liar when he testified, truthfully, against Hiss. Distinctions, though, are not what Congress does.

So Henry Waxman read the riot act to Clemens over some testimony that, in the very prettiest legal language, would be described as “inconsistent.” After yesterday’s hearings, Clemens may very well be investigated for — and even charged with — perjury. He could even do time. And the Republic will be so much safer for it.

Nostalgia is, of course, so yesterday. Still, one longs for better, cleaner times — for both baseball and Congress. The Hiss v. Chambers hearings were the real deal, and a bright high-school kid who picked up a book today and started reading about the prothonotary warbler and all the other rich detail would get it right away. Twenty years from now, will anyone understand what Congress was doing investigating cheating in baseball?

As for baseball, there was a great pitcher working the big leagues back in the days of Hiss v. Chambers. His name was Preacher Roe, from Ash Flat, Arkansas. Roe hurled for the Dodgers (mostly, but also the Pirates) and in 1951 his record was an amazing 21 wins against 3 losses. He had, he said, “Three pitches. My change. My change off my change. And my change off my change off my change.”

Roe was effective in the bigs until, what was at that time, the advanced age of 39. After he retired, he divulged the secret of his longevity. “Clean livin’,” he said, “and the spitball.”

An article appeared in Sports Illustrated (then an infant magazine) in which Roe explained how he’d done it and virtually showed other aspiring rule-breakers how to doctor the ball.

Hard to believe, but there were no congressional investigations. Baseball and the Republic survived.

Geoffrey Norman writes on sports for NRO and other publications.


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