Congress Misses the Ball
federal grand jury last week indicted retired pitcher Roger Clemens on charges he lied to Congress.
In February 2008, Clemens, a seven time Cy Young winner, voluntarily met with a House committee and testified he didn’t knowingly use steroids or human growth hormones. The only evidence against Clemens appears to be the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who claims to have injected Clemens with the drugs about 40 times between 1998 and 2001. Clemens says he was led to believe the injections were Vitamin B-12 and an anesthetic, Lidocaine, both legal under Major League Baseball guidelines. McNamee cut a deal with the Department of Justice to avoid prosecution. Clemens could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Probably half the country thinks Clemens took illegal drugs. Probably half the country thinks he didn’t take the drugs and was set up by his trainer. But that’s not the important issue.
First of all, does anyone know why the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform even held a hearing about steroid usage among baseball players? Was there a dry spell and the Committee couldn’t find anything in the government that needed to be reformed?
If the committee thought public figures taking illegal drugs was bad, why didn’t it look inside itself first? If it did, there would be a high probability it could easily have found members of Congress and their staffs who also took steroids, snorted coke, or mainlined harder drugs. Stoned and wasted Congressional staffers pose a greater danger to society than any athlete.
This is the same body of legislators who created the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the early 1950s to strip Americans of their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association. It also ordered contempt of Congress charges and perjury against witnesses who told the truth—but not what Congress wanted to hear.
This is the Congress that in 1994 didn’t ask for convictions for perjury for any of the seven CEOs of major tobacco companies who testified under oath that nicotine wasn’t addictive. But that, and much more, is history. The present 21st century Congress has much more to answer about its actions.
This is the Congress that ran in fearful circles, put its tail between its legs and in 2001 passed the PATRIOT Act, which stripped Americans of six Constitutional amendments and the constitutional right of habeas corpus. Four years later, Congress reauthorized the Act to prevent several sections from automatically expiring. The terrorists had done their job well—they put so much fear into Americans that the Americans created their own terrorism.
This is the Congress that failed to question the Bush–Cheney administration’s claims of why it needed to spend about a trillion dollars and invade Iraq.
This is a Congress that was slow to respond to well-documented evidence that the U.S. was committing torture—and which, against the professional advice of the CIA and FBI, housed large numbers of elected legislators who saw nothing wrong with torturing those who may or may not have been terrorists, the election year “buzzword.”
This is a Congress that had provided negligent oversight of companies that provided billions of dollars worth of service in the war zone—and fraudulently overbilled the taxpayers.
This is the same Congress that allowed the banking and investment industries to make billions by scamming Americans, gave multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses to its senior management, and helped bring about the greatest recession since the 1920s.
This is the Congress that by negligence allowed lax oversight of environmental regulations.
This is the same Congress that was blind to the Bush–Cheney administration’s failure to properly regulate the oil industry, and probably should be considered to be an unindicted co-conspirator in the BP oil spill.
This is the same Congress that has allowed a Republican minority to become the street bully and block needed legislation, including legislation to assist small business. But because of a weak Democratic response and archaic procedures, the entire Congress must suffer a black eye.
This is the same Congress that did pass health reform, but allowed itself to be sunk by the fear of a Republican filibuster that what was passed was a watered-down version of what was necessary.
There are so much more important issues than investigating steroid usage among millionaire athletes that it is easy to believe that Congress muffed its responsibility to the American people by its righteous political gesturing to make voters believe their elected officials actually cared about health.
If Congress is so upset that others lied to them and the American people, maybe it could ask the FBI to investigate and the Department of Justice to bring indictments against not only some of its own members but also some members of the Bush–Cheney administration.♦
Walter Brasch is a professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. His most recent book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.