"America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy."
- John Updike
Rich people are stupid. Or maybe they're smart. Who the hell knows? Watching A-Rod grimace through his interview with Peter Gammons on ESPN, it was hard not to think about Bernie Madoff and what his answers might be to reasonable inquiries. Rodriquez and Madoff both seem to have responded to the uniquely American notion that everything goes forever upwards; profits are endless and records will all be broken. That's nonsense, of course; the 100 meters will always require a certain amount of time to be traversed and the record will eventually reach human capacity. And markets, as every economist will concede, are not endlessly upward bound. Capitalism is imperfect.
Rodriquez seems to be implying that it's our fault he cheated. He said the reason he took steroids was because he had "the weight of the world" on his shoulders and there were "great expectations because I had just signed this enormous contract." What crap. How did Gammons not laugh at this guy? This is the moral equivalent of your sixth grader getting caught looking at his desk mate's test paper during an exam. "Gee, dad, I knew you really wanted me to do well and had great expectations that I would get an A but I hadn't studied and I didn't want to let you down." "Thanks, son. I'm proud you did what was necessary to succeed."
His other excuse was, "It was just the culture of that time." Ah good one, Alex. Not enough character to know the difference between right and wrong, eh? That's kind of the Nazi war criminal defense. "I didn't really feel like killing those people but it was our culture at that time." Like the old Texas Ranger said, "Right is still right even if nobody's doing it and wrong is still wrong even if everybody's doing it." The distinctions aren't subtle, A-Roid. They are pretty stark and obvious.
A Rod, of course, is easy to hate. He's right out there in front of us being a Yankee and hitting the baseball. When I was a kid and hating the Yankees on the radio as Mantle and Maris decimated the Tigers and broke my Motown heart, I gave them their grudging respect. Maris' forearms didn't look much bigger than my own bird-like appendages and made me think anything was possible and I still may yet make it to the big leagues. Even the uninitiated knew The Mick was a bit of freak but Maris' performance confirmed that mechanics and hard work created possibilities for lesser creatures. A-Rod, Clemens, and McGuire did too; they simply added controlled substances to the equation. Who wants to let down America?
Bernie Madoff has no playing field but he saw a sucker in our culture's obsession with risk-free and assured profit and the need to win. Maybe he thought anyone stupid enough to believe in that deserved to lose their money so he drew silly graphs with endlessly ascending red lines and reassured the doubtful. Wall Street didn't do anything much different than Madoff by bundling up nonsensical dreams and then spinning them out to buyer after buyer on a credit swap swirl. Are we this stupid and greedy? Do we deserve our present economic peril or are some of us victims?
Too much of our population has now grown cynical from the lies and cheating and stealing that they do not expect any change. We no longer anticipate much from congress and the senate and our media beyond entertainment, and they don't even do that well. Watching Republicans wail about the stimulus plan is laughable after their silent acquiescence over the Wall Street bailout of hundreds of billions. The markets must be saved even though the homeowners and workers can be sacrificed. Things couldn't have been too bad, actually, if some of those firms receiving bailout money decided to pay it back right away when they learned that salaries were to be capped by congress at $500,000. The Democrats, for their part, seem almost as if they can't think of anything to do but print more money and give it away to different interests, along with more bankers.
Oh sure, none of this is our fault. America is not to blame. There are just some bad actors in high profile positions. Really? Our sports heroes are gone, exposed as liars and cheaters. The people we trust with our money turn out to be thieves of a magnitude not known to history. Our president lies us into war, ruins damned near every institution of our government with political folly, and then retires safe from the law in the western sun. You can't even ask the question "What the hell's wrong with us?" because the answer requires decades of explanation. An increasing number of Americans wonder if our country will even survive and a scary proportion of those have asked the troubling follow up question as to whether we deserve to survive and have entered our final decline.
I don't know anything except for the fact that I hate the Yankees.
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