I remember, for one month shortly after I graduated college, I became a CSPAN junkie.
At that point, there were two CSPAN channels, one at almost all times dealing with boring academic symposia--only DC-area colleges or universities in Cambridge, MA, needed to apply--and the other dedicated to the business of the people, the workings of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
After watching several dozen floor debates, hearings, and votes called, I came to the conclusion that the business of the people might be the most boring stuff in the history of humankind, certainly the most boring thing ever put on television. After the first week, I kept on watching in horror, because I simply couldn't believe that the system--the government of the most powerful nation in the world--was this inefficient. They were having votes about whether they would decide to vote! A whole month went by, and I'm pretty sure the nation's legislature failed to accomplish a single thing in that time.
Of all people, it was Newt Gingrich who finally clued me in on what I was seeing. On one of the boring academic symposia shows, he said, off-the-cuff: "The genius of the Constitution is that the framers made the government so inefficient, no tyrant could force it to function for his benefit."
That was a relief. The design flaw was intentional. I was free to go back to watching ESPN.
Today, we had the intersection of CSPAN and ESPN in the form of congressional hearings into steroids in baseball. Because I have a day job, I couldn't follow most of the hearings--excellent fill ins on the first two panels (which featured steroid victims, steroid experts, and inexplicably Jim Bunning) were provided by the pros--Will Carroll over at the newly-renamed Juice Blog, and Dave Pinto at Baseball Musings.
Luckily for me, the House of Representatives is way inefficient, and so hearings that were supposed to last until 2:00 PM went on until 9:00PM, so I got to listen to the players testify, and even got to see some of the final panel, made up of MLB representatives and Donald Fehr.
Man, was that ugly.
The whole atmosphere of the hearing was like watching a well-dressed person talking to an emotionally disturbed homeless guy--there's a lot of agreeing with whatever the homeless guy has to say. Congressmen spent the entire evening telling the players and the MLB guys that they were angry--real angry!--and that baseball was going to have to put its house in order. And the witnesses were all in heads-a-bobbin' mode "Uh-huh, yeah, house in order, whatever you say, please don't hurt me."
The formerly brash and bold Jose Canseco turned into a house-broken kitten in the face of the committee: all that "steroids are the way of the future!" stuff he was pitching in his book was out the window--now 'roids were wrong and harmful and man, was he sorry that Congress wasn't looking out for him back when he played the game. Jose looked pretty big, which makes me think that if the committee had insisted on a urine test on the spot, Jose might've flunked it. But for one day, at least, he had seen the light, and gotten the message: steroids bad!
Still, Canseco wasn't the biggest loser of the day. That distinction would belong to Big Red, Mark McGwire. His oft-repeated lines "I'm not here to discuss the past, but to talk about the future" and "I wouldn't know, I'm retired" were among the lamest evasions in human history--bad enough that several congressmen mocked him openly. From his opening statement on, this was a bizarre performance--he choked up unexpectedly throughout his opening statement, and was often incoherent in his testimony. He told the panel that his foundation was dedicated to fighting the steroid problem. When asked what his foundation was doing, it turned out he'd just decided to re-dedicate his foundation to fight steroid use. When pressed further, as to what his message would be, the answer was: "Steroids's bad. Don't do them."
I'm serious. That's what I heard, and I couldn't believe it as I heard it.
The only spark of rebellion that could be seen from any of the witnesses came from MLB's attorney Rob Manfred, who looked at various times like he wanted to bitch-slap the congressmen in attendance. I thought there was actually a threat of a fist fight when Representative Lynch of Massachussets started babbling about how he was always happy to allow drug testing of his unions into the many collective bargaining agreements he negotiated.
It's always easy to give away someone else's rights. After an evening of listening to congressmen tell baseball that they should merrily agree to random drug testing and two-strikes-you're-out Olympic discipline rules--because baseball players are role models, y'know--I was more than happy to support the "Steroid and Drug Free Congress Act of 2005" which would call for random drug testing and Olympic discipline for all U.S. Representatives and their staffers.
I mean, what better way to send the right message to our children?