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The people – just what do we care about?

January 17, 2010

Last week, a poll came out that suggested that the Conservatives and Liberals were almost tied – a pretty astonishing result (the lead was 15 points only three months ago). Enough to ; these things are only accurate 19 times out of 20, after all. So another poll comes out that backs up the first, and then another, and, well, there it is.

This, of course, comes after Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament, which followed revelations about the alleged abuse and torture of Canadian prisoners in Afghanistan.

In the same week, Mark McGwire confessed that, yes, he took steroids in 1998 when he hit 70 homers. Back in 2003, McGwire infamously told Congress that he wasn’t there “to talk about the past.” He was absolutely ripped by the media, and so far as I can tell, baseball fans were fully supportive of said ripping.

So now Mark has confessed, and… he’s still getting ripped by the media. For a variety of reasons – that he did it for self-serving reasons, that he’s still not telling the full truth, that the whole thing was choreographed with teary tears*, that he refuses to admit he’s a total fraud, that he didn’t offer a full pound of flesh, etc. Joe Posnanski responded with the following:

I didn’t agree with or even follow everything McGwire said, but I never thought that was the point. I never thought apologizing was an Olympic sport with stoned-faced people judging how straight his toes were pointed and if he made too big a splash. McGwire is not a public speaker. He’s not a philosopher. He’s not a politician. He is not even an especially open person. He is a guy who dedicated his life to hitting baseballs hard. Expecting him to become Hamlet doesn’t seem fair.

We went through this before 12 months ago after the Alex Rodriguez steroids bombshell. A-Roid did everything he needed to do, both practically and ethically, to move on – he fessed up, apologized, bounced back and was a good team player. The media ripped his confession, for the same reasons as McGwire’s, but by the end of the season A-Rod was probably more popular with fans than he’s ever been.

That caused many sportswriters to tear out their hair (example here, and here, and here) and to lament that fans were not doing their share in the public denunciation of these players. But that’s ass backwards; the general public, even us dumb baseball fans, intuitively understand that “to err is human, to forgive is divine”. We all have to forgive, or be forgiven, on a constant basis, whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, (ahem) spouses, or complete strangers who cross our paths. There is no time for putting preconditions or terms on forgiveness; our lives would screech to a halt.

Most of us have busy lives and have simple, clear expectations of our sporting heroes (and political leaders): don’t fuck around with us. Confess, and move on; we don’t even KNOW Mark McGwire, and don’t have time to worry about him. Unfortunately, it would seem that too many people in the sports media have too much time on their hands; they spend all day stewing in their own juices, picking apart every apology or confession while living in constant fear that the athlete is playing them for a fool.

Well, I’m a thinkin’ and thinkin’, till there’s nothin’ I ain’t thunk.

Breathing in the stink, till finally I stunk.

It was at that time, I swear I lost my mind.

I started making plans to kill my own kind.

– The Violent Femmes, Country Death Song

This may not have much to do with Stephen Harper, except that I choose to amuse myself on a Sunday morning. When he made the decision to prorogue Parliament, he claimed that Canadians aren’t concerned about Afghan detainee abuse: “I think polls have been pretty clear that that’s not on the top of the radar of most Canadians.” That may even be true; I should know better than to question the polls.

But that sounds a lot like Jim Leyland saying that baseball fans don’t care about steroids, which may also be true to some extent – but they sure as hell cared when Mark McGwire refused to fess up in 2003. Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament was his way of saying “I don’t want to talk about the past”. As voters, we are awfully forgiving when it comes to our politicians; no matter how badly they fuck up, we still usually elect them again – which drives the opposition crazy, but that’s the way it is.

But Stephen Harper confused the issue with his own personal responsibility for the issue. Yes, Afghan detainee abuse is not a big issue with Canadians; we understand that Afghanistan is a mess, and that shit happens. If he had just said that mistakes were made and moved on, then everyone would have moved on. But Harper comes from the “never give an inch” school of politics; instead, he fucked around with us, and now… time will tell if he can recognize the error and correct it.

* I’m not sure I get the obsession with McGwire’s tears. It’s American television, for crissakes; everybody cries. Tears have become American television’s single most defining feature. Or at least, that’s how it seems to a Canadian looking from the outside. But jeez, it’s been 23 years since Broadcast News nailed the whole crying on TV thing; get over it already.

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