Politics and Steroids

My dad sent along a link to an article on the letter that New England Patriot’s quarterback Jacoby Brissett sent to President Barack Obama. In the letter, Brissett writes, “Honestly, I don’t know enough about politics to judge what was good or bad…” Breaking my own rule, I skimmed the comments on the article, and one commenter quoted this line, and wrote something like, “That was all I had to read.” Another suggested Jacoby go back to school, the implication being he could learn more about politics there.

I have a degree in political science and I don’t understand politics, or perhaps more precisely, politicians. I know how a bill becomes a law, and I have the gist of a legal case like Terry v. Ohio, but when it comes to politicians, and whether or not what they do is good or bad, I’m in the same spot as Jacoby Brissett.

It is easy to be cynical and lump all politicians into the same box–a bunch of self-serving phonies garbed in public service clothing. But of course politicians run the spectrum. I have to remind myself about this every now and then. Not every politician is tainted. It just seems that way because they are surrounded by so many that are.

I was thinking about this and realized that it is a remarkably similar situation to baseball’s steroid problem. Players began juicing because they needed a competitive edge. A lot of money was at stake, competition is fierce, and any little edge is the difference between a career season and retirement. In some players, the change was obvious: dense muscle, and remarkable speed and power. In others, the changes were less obvious. As big names were associated with steroid use, fans became disheartened. If Mark McGuire could be involved, couldn’t anyway?

Many fans began looking at anyone who played well and wondered whether or not they were using some sort of performance-enhancing drug. How could you tell? The easy assumption was that if one of them was doing it, most of them were probably doing it, and the ones that weren’t were caught up in the mix, guilty by association.

Politics is no different. A lot of money is at stake. Competition is fierce. Any little edge is the difference between winning an election, and losing one. The drug in question is not steroids, but a lack of integrity, a win-at-all-costs mentality that undermines the values that people traditionally look for in a politician: honesty, trustworthiness, honor, sacrifice, hard work, respect. I become so frustrated with the politicians I see behaving this way, that it soon seems like they are all behaving this way, even though that might not be the case.

Ultimately, fans rejected performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Major League Baseball began enforcing rules to prevent its use. Players generally got the message. It’s obvious in home run statistics alone. Home runs are fun to watch, but not when sacrificing the integrity of the game. That is the message that fans sent.

Jacoby Brissett is not alone in not knowing enough about politics to know what (or who) is good or bad. I don’t know either. In baseball, I knew that steroid were bad for the players and for the game, and I was glad to see MLB take steps to cut their use. In politics the solution isn’t so cut and dry. The MLB of politics is the voters. We draft the players and we make the lineups. We manage the team. But when I look at the roster, I can no longer tell the difference between the good players and the bad ones.


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