What others say: America's disdain for U.S. government outweighs disdain for liars

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Published: Friday, June 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens and his wife Debbie Clemens leave a news conference outside federal court in Washington, Monday, June 18, 2012, after he was acquitted on all charges by a jury that decided that he didn't lie to Congress when he denied using performance -enhancing drugs.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The following editorial appeared recently in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Sports Illustrated columnist Jeff Pearlman succinctly described on Tuesday what federal prosecutors should have known before they ever charged former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens with lying to Congress.

"As unpopular and unlikable as Clemens may well have been, he was never nearly as loathed and untrustworthy as the U.S. government," wrote Pearlman, author of a biography of the 11-time All-Star.

A jury of eight men and four women in the nation's capital fired figurative high heat at that government when it decided on Monday that the Justice Department wasted four and a half years trying to convict Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball, of cheating the game.

Like Barry Bonds and Mark "I'm not here to talk about the past" McGwire before him, Clemens may have used performance-enhancing drugs. But nobody proved it. Some fans care. Others don't.

What is far clearer is that many Americans have no respect for Congress. According to the Gallup Poll, which has been measuring the approval ratings of Congress for more than 30 years, Americans' opinion of Congress is the lowest it ever has been.

This month, those approval ratings are an anemic 17 percent, with the yearly average even lower at 14 percent. The ratings were nothing to write home about back when Clemens' case was getting started, but they were nearly twice as high.

Why is this?

Because Congress lies to the American people. All. The. Time.

In an article in this week's edition of The New Yorker, political columnist Ezra Klein of The Washington Post outlines the painstaking flip-flops that Republicans have performed to oppose certain ideas simply because they are supported by President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Most significant is the health insurance mandate, which, for decades, was a Republican idea. But once the GOP set its sights on opposing Obama's Affordable Care Act, Republicans switched positions, and there was no nuance to it. They used to be in favor of it, in droves. Now? It's the most un-American idea since the designated hitter.

The same is true of the plan to limit carbon emissions known as cap and trade. That, too, was a Republican proposal endorsed by such GOP heavyweights as Newt Gingrich and John McCain. Now it's socialism.

Then there's the debate over the debt ceiling. When President George W. Bush wanted — make that needed — to have it raised, he was opposed by Democrats, including Obama, who called it irresponsible. With Obama in the White House, the parties switched sides, merely copying the arguments their opponents used to use for their own.

It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

In the case of Clemens, it might just be that the Justice Department built a weak case based on a star witness who couldn't seem to tell the truth. Maybe in today's celebrity-obsessed culture, it's impossible to find a jury who won't give the benefit of the doubt to a man who faced down steroid-laced sluggers with the same sort of chemical enhancement.

But it's possible that Americans who have no respect for their Congress have decided that lying to the liars isn't really a crime. How tragic for the republic.

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