Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On America's Moral Barometers...

So, Plaxico Burress just got a 2-year jail sentence for carrying a licensed gun into a nightclub and shooting himself in the leg, but nobody else. Michael Vick just got reinstated to the NFL after serving 2 years in jail for his role in financing a dog-fighting racket. In both cases, lots of people have voiced outrage as to the supposed leniency in their cases. I'm not saying they are necessarily wrong (though I really think Burress' sentence is kind of crazy), nor am I condoning their actions...but do these people follow the news????

I mean, seriously, is Michael Vick the guy we need to go after? I get it, he played a part in something horrible, especially if you are a dog-lover (I'm indifferent, but can sympathize), but understand that the harm he inflicted, while obviously bad, was limited...and he paid his dues by going to jail and losing his money. Same will happen to Plax, whose football career is essentially over - 2 years in jail for a wide receiver at Burress' age means nobody will sign him when he's out. Barry Bonds, the home-run king, has essentially been blacklisted by Major League Baseball, and the players in general have come under fire for their use of steroids, but nobody is talking about the owners who looked the other way in the 1990s when juice-induced homers were filling the seats and their pockets. Michael Phelps, Olympic hero (and University of Michigan grad - go Blue!), attracted so much criticism for his admission that he had smoked marijuana in the past.

I'm not sure what the hell happened to America, but since when were sports athletes our moral barometers? Seriously. I'm not condoning any of the actions mentioned above, but give me a break. I'd say, at the very least, we should hold our leaders more accountable than the guys we watch throw spirals, right? I get the outrage some people felt when Vick was let back into the league, but, again, he actually paid for his crimes. How many of our leaders have done no such thing? How many people in far more important positions involved in far more serious matters have gotten away with murder? Literally? Yet, America directs more of its outrage at NFL stars doing dumb and horrible things than Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR - a former Halliburton subsidiary), who got some sweet contracts from the US government (and who says having friends in high positions, like Dick Cheney, et. al., doesn't pay?) in Iraq, have misused a lot of the money, and most importantly, may have done such a shoddy job on electrical wiring that that this work killed 16 US soldiers due to electrocution this past year. In some of the cases, the Pentagon already announced no criminal charges will be filed. Well, of course not. Paying a company $80 million to wire facilities in Iraq, and then have a number of US soldiers die because they were electrocuted in showers in those facilities, doesn't seem to be a serious matter at all. Totally not linked, you know, wiring and multiple electrocution deaths in showers. Now, if you really want to talk about morality, let me tell you about Michael Vick...

Speculation is that Burress got a pretty harsh sentence because Mayor Bloomberg wanted to make an example out of him. Okay. So, let me see if I got this right. You want to make an example out of somebody for doing something bad. In New York city. you know Wall Street is in the area? Because, while Plax is a fool for carrying a gun into a club, and he definitely could have potentially done a lot of harm, he actually only shot himself, whereas our "great" business minds on Wall Street ran amuck and broke our economy with their recklessness, causing a hell of a lot of real harm to countless Americans. What some of them did was totally criminal. So...lets throw the book at Plax instead!

How many laws did the Bush administration break? It seems like we're still getting stories every few weeks about something insane and criminal they did to this day. What are the consequences? None, basically, because they were only the leaders of our country. John Yoo teaches at Berkeley. Dick Cheney seems ready for his own prime time television show. Alberto Gonzalez still can't remember a damn thing and will be teaching political science courses (why, god, why?) at Texas Tech. George W. Bush is putting together a think tank (no, that's not a joke). None of them are in jail. None of them went to trial to go to jail. And I doubt any of them will. While this is killing some progressives across the country (and people in general around the world), the general mood in America is, we shouldn't go after these guys. Awesome. We've got bigger fish to fry. Athletes. Rappers. Not guys who lie to Congress in sworn testimony - he totally doesn't deserve to go to jail.

Over time, it seems like the people we should be holding up to higher moral and civic standards in our country are acting in absolutely appalling ways. And, most importantly, they're getting away with it. Rachel Maddow shouldn't be one of the only people reporting on "the Family" at the C St. House, for instance, an institution that includes Congressional leaders who use taxpayer money to learn about coercion from some of the worst dictators around. Why hasn't there been wider coverage of Bobby Jindal using taxpayer dollars to fly to churches all over Louisiana to give communities checks with his name on it that came from the Obama stimulus bill that Jindal so openly deplored? How about really leaning heavily on Governor Sanford for being completely out of touch with everyone while he went down to Argentina to visit his mistress? Forget the affair, a governor of the state can't just leave town (and country) without telling anyone. By the way, he used taxpayer dollars for several of those trips before, and lots of taxpayer dollars in other inappropriate ways. Maybe he will be impeached (there seems to be some movement towards it), but political leaders sure seem to get away with a lot, so I'll believe he's held accountable when I see it. Now, if he was Michael Phelps, different story...

Charles Barkley famously quipped years ago that he wasn't a role model. Well, I think whether they want to be or not, athletes (and lots of other people in the public limelight, like musicians, actors, writers, etc.) have no choice but to be role models. That means acting responsibly, and paying the price when they don't. Oftentimes, they do get away with a lot. But sometimes they don't. On the other hand, there is no doubt our political, civic, and business leaders should be role models, far more than athletes, etc.. They are engaged in far more serious issues than entertaining us. Somewhere along the line, though, we shifted our moral barometers. Guys like Dick Cheney became untouchable, but guys like Barry Bonds became lightning rods for debates about "what was wrong in America." Well, I think the fact that the discussion has moved to that level might begin to tell us what is wrong in America.

Note: I realize I went after a lot of Republicans here...that's just because its easier, given the insane number of ridiculous scandals they've been involved with, but please don't think my point here is a partisan one. It's about the insanity of holding athletes, entertainers, etc., up to be the moral barometers of this country, while giving our actual leaders, in politics, in business, in civic life, a much easier pass.

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