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When Oversight Becomes an Oversight

08.17.2005 | POLITICS

From the gimme-a-freaking-break department: Rep. Thomas Davis of Virginia, chair of the House Committee on Governmental Reform, is leading an investigation into the possibility that Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro committed perjury during last spring's steroids hearing.

Why is this ridiculous? This is ridiculous because Davis found his righteous motivation to pursue the case by watching Palmeiro on tv, reading his statement regarding his recent positive test for banned substances, and concluding, from a distance, that Raffy was lying.

"I don't think it was inadvertent in terms of getting in," Davis said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. "I know he knew he was taking something."

Sen. Jim Bunning, the loony Kentucky Republican who once said his electoral opponent resembled one of Saddam Hussein's sons, responded to the Palmeiro scandal by declaring his intention to push for laws that would mandate two-year suspensions for athletes who use juice. Meanwhile, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, another righteous Republican, responded to the Raffy mess by announcing that Congress planned on being more proactive in declaring jurisdiction over pro baseball, "because of baseball's inability to police their own players."

Great to see all of these guys rushing to protect the dignity of the national legislature from a dumb Cuban jock who lied to protect his home-run records. Except for one thing: Where were all of these assholes when the president of the United States lied to Congress? The parallels between the Palmeiro case and the case of George Bush's communications to Congress before the war are extremely interesting, and say a lot about what most members of Congress imagine their jobs to be.

The two cases have a lot in common. First and foremost, in both the Palmeiro case and the Bush case, at the time of their respective statements before Congress, it was obvious even to a five-year-old that the principal actors were lying through their teeth.

When Palmeiro stood up before Congress looking all tan and regal with his trimmed moustache and pulled his O.J. Simpson, "absolutely, positively, 100 percent not guilty" routine, every baseball fan in the country spit up his milk with laughter.

In the history of baseball, Palmeiro ranks solidly as the sport's third-most laughingly obvious juicer, well behind fellow Oriole Brady Anderson (a midget who overnight went from being unable to reach the warning track on a windy day to hitting 50 homers in a season) but only just slightly behind former Texas Ranger teammate Jose Canseco.

Raffy was more obvious than Barry Bonds, more obvious than Mark McGwire, and more obvious than Jason Giambi. When Palmeiro came up to the big leagues, he looked like a fourth-string wide receiver for the Columbia Lions. He had the slim build and the moustache of a male hooker working summers in the Hamptons. He once led the league in singles. Then he shares a locker room with Jose Canseco for a season, and next thing you know, he's hitting 500 home runs. Give us a break.

So when Raffy stood up there in Congress with that pious expression and barked into the camera that business about never having touched steroids, everyone in America knew he was full of shit. I would imagine that even some members of Congress were sober enough at that moment to know something was amiss. Even so, it took a positive test from major league baseball for Congress to come to the defense of the congressional oath. Now, however, emboldened by public opinion and (more importantly) by the promise of continued coverage on the only news outlet in America that matters (ESPN), they're all piling on Palmeiro as though he'd just sold state secrets to the Baader-Meinhof gang.

But as ridiculous as Palmeiro's performance before Congress was, it paled in comparison to Bush's. There are about a half-dozen separate incidents involving Bush and Congress that a truly awake and self-interested legislature would look back on now and conclude, as this Congress did with Palmeiro, that its honor had been violated, warranting swift punishment.

Among those:

  • At a congressional leadership meeting on October 3, 2002, Bush made representations about Hussein's nuclear capabilities that not only turned out not to have been true, but appear to have been based upon doctored or manipulated intelligence.
  • In the State of the Union address a few months later, Bush made his famous "sixteen little words" gaffe about uranium from Africa -- another bald misrepresentation.
  • At another congressional leadership meeting in 2002, Bush made representations about Saddam Hussein's ability to attack the U.S. using unmanned drones that turned out to be the bullshit they seemed even at the time.
  • According to Senator Bob Graham, Bush consciously permitted bad intelligence to be passed to Congress throughout 2002; Graham considered this an act of lying to congress serious enough to warrant impeachment.
  • The resolution Bush sought from Congress authorizing the attack of Iraq was based upon the idea that a regime of inspections would be given a chance to work. We all know the inspections were a sham -- and if we could prove they were a sham, the resolution itself would be an act of lying to Congress.

But forgetting all of those specific instances, the entire case for the war was a farce, more ridiculous on its face by a factor of 10 than Brady Anderson's 50-homer season. As has been noted often in this column space, the whole charade leading up to the war -- the phony inspections regime, the fake drama in which congressional approval was "sought," the utterly idiotic "evidence" of the imminent Iraqi threat offered on the floor of the House in the State of the Union address -- all of this was a childish ruse, obvious to the dullest observer. And the thrust of all of it was that the U.S. Congress was used like a piece of meat, humped like a blow-up doll, crudely manipulated to give the Iraqi action the appearance of democratic legality.

Worse still, Congress let it happen. It abandoned all pretence of collegial, bureaucratic self-defense. This has become a habit with our legislature, which lately seems to view its own oversight responsibilities not as a precious reservoir of political power, but as a terrible burden to be shed at the earliest opportunity. Our Congress long ago gave away its constitutional power to declare or withhold military action; lately, in matters like the Dick Cheney Energy Task Force fiasco, it has rolled over repeatedly whenever the executive branch has refused subpoenas or spat in the face of Congress's investigatory rights.

And unlike the case of Watergate, when congress united in bipartisan fashion to oppose a president who flouted congressional authority, this particular congress seems to love being pushed around by the executive branch.

And after what happened in the fall of 2002 and the winter of 2003, seeing Congress rise to protect its honor from the likes of Rafael Palmeiro is side-splittingly hilarious comedy. It's like hearing a toothless, 55-year-old Bushwick Ave. whore complain -- 10,000 blowjobs later -- that her date didn't bring her flowers. And they want baseball to apologize?

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