A close compatriot of President Bush squats in a
scandal so malodorous it led news shows from coast to
coast. It's a scandal that some say is too hot for
Bush to comment on. But there was the President,
speaking without a stammer or stutter on this issue of
pressing national concern.
There was only one curious twist. The scandalized
bosom buddy was not the bosomy Karl Rove, but
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Yes,
in an era of war and economic crisis, Bush took time
to rush to the defense of a four-time All-Star who has
become the highest profile casualty of Major League
Baseball's steroid testing program.
Bush called Palmeiro a "friend" and said, "He's
testified in public [to being clean], and I believe
him.... Still do." Presidential lickspittle Scott
McClellan also made clear at a White House press
briefing that Palmeiro has the full support of the
It no doubt will puzzle future generations (or present
ones, for that matter) why the President felt
compelled to comment on what a 40 year old ballplayer
may or may not have ingested. But the reasons are
clear enough. This is a case of how the Bush
administration's Politics of Distraction have turned
around to nip the President in the tush. It all began
at the January 2003 State of the Union address when
Bush inexplicably took time to talk tough on steroids.
As New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady grinned
next to the First Lady, Bush put the plague of
steroids on the front burner of the national
consciousness. This was Politics of Distraction 101, a
classic ploy to give the public something to chew over
instead of those two pesky countries the US armed
forces happened to be occupying.
But a fly flew into the flaxseed oil when bankrupt
former all-star, Jose Canseco attempted to capitalize
on steroid mania by releasing an inject-and-tell book
called, appropriately enough, Juiced. In Juiced,
Canseco names every buttock that cozied up to his
all-star syringe. Two of those cheeks, Canseco
revealed, belonged to Palmeiro. The repercussions were immediate. Palmeiro had always presented himself as a Holy Joe, a rock ribbed Republican, a podium thumper for the American Dream. Thanks to Canseco, Palmeiro found himself subpoenaed and forced to testify in front of congress last March. Grimacing with indignation, Palmeiro wagged his finger and said under oath," Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."
The performance was convincing. So convincing Palmeiro
was even named to a Congressional committee that would
work to "clean up the sport." Canseco was the liar.
Palmeiro the hero dragged through the mud. Never mind
that after Canseco joined the Texas Rangers Palmeiro's
home run averages jumped from 19 per year to 37. Never
mind because the steely-eyed Palmeiro made you believe
that his anger was righteous. Now, in the wake of this
latest test, he looks like the one thing worse that a
liar: a sanctimonious liar. As Tom Boswell of the
Washington Post wrote, "In this culture, heaven help
you if, after playing that once-per-lifetime, I-swear-on-a-stack-of-Bibles card, you get caught."
But Palmeiro thinks he can whip out those Bibles for
an encore. In a teleconference Monday, Palmeiro said,
"When I testified in front of Congress, I know that I
was testifying under oath and I told the truth. Today
I am telling the truth again ...I have never
intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period."
[the guy has to lay off the periods.]
Palmeiro's state of disgrace also means that we are
now treated to the sight of Canseco, last seen living
with Omarosa and Bronson "Balki" Pinchot on VH1's "The
Surreal Life", posturing like Abe Lincoln, parading
around talk shows saying things like (and I love this
quote) "Palmeiro test proves that almost everything in
my book is true."
If we are now to accept Canseco's book as holy writ,
we should also remember that his Texas Rangers team
had an owner named George W. Bush who Canseco
describes as "most certainly knowing" that the players
were on the juice. This went wildly underreported when
the book was released, largely because Canseco's
credibility was in constant question. Now that Canseco
has morphed into Honest Abe, we should start asking
whether Bush should receive the next congressional
subpoena about steroids in sports. We should ask what
Bush actually knows and when did he know it. We should
press Palmeiro on what his friend in the owner's box,
the former cheerleader from Yale, did and did not
allow. We should take these Politics of Distraction,
which Bush hoisted into our lives and drop the whole
stinking, steaming, anabolic load on his front door.
Dave Zirin's new book "What's My Name Fool? Sports
and Resistance in the United States" is now in stores.
You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week
by e-mailing edgeofsports- firstname.lastname@example.org.
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