According to a February 28 Associated Press report, “The FBI took up the Roger Clemens case Thursday, told by the Justice Department to investigate whether the star pitcher lied when he testified to Congress he never took performance-enhancing drugs. The FBI’s involvement was announced one day after the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told Attorney General Michael Mukasey they weren’t sure whether Clemens told the truth under oath at a Feb. 5 deposition and Feb. 13 public hearing.”
This development is shocking in several regards. Not because Clemens might have lied, mind you, but because members of Congress had no proper business interrogating him in the first place. Where in the Constitution does it say that Congress may interfere in the internal affairs of a private baseball league or its players? How exactly have these vainglorious congressional publicity hounds come by the idea that their jurisdiction has no limits?
The biggest shockeroo, however, is that these despicable charlatans would throw a private citizen to the FBI wolves on account of his having possibly lied to them, of all people. Do they not lie to the public and to each other with nearly every utterance they make? Do they not lie routinely to their friends, their spouses, their sons and daughters, and even to their cats and dogs? Why is it that what’s good for the Clemens goose is unsuited to the congressional gander?
Journalists have a word for that rare occasion on which a politician or government official tells the truth; they call it a gaffe, because, as the merest child understands, a politician or government official rarely tells the truth except inadvertently. If these professional prevaricators had Pinnochio’s condition, their noses would stretch from sea to shining sea, and motorists driving smoothly along those dishonest snouts could forget about the need to repave Interstate 80.
In describing President Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Times reporter Turner Catledge said the president’s “first instinct was always to lie,” although “sometimes in midsentence he would switch to accuracy because he realized he could get away with the truth in that particular instance.”
Roosevelt later promised, shortly before the election of 1940, when he was already up to his eyeballs in covert maneuvers to bring the United States into the war, “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Well, Salerno ain’t San Diego, my friends, and Iwo Jima ain’t Indianapolis. Sure enough, the truth was the first casualty.
Lyndon B. Johnson, the ostensible peace candidate in 1964, pledged to the public, “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” More than fifty thousand dead American boys later, something about that solemn promise smelled a little fishy.
Only a few years later, President Richard M. Nixon earnestly assured us, as small beads of sweat trickled down into his five o’clock shadow, “I am not a crook, and bears do not defecate in the woods.”
And who can forget the moment when Bill Clinton looked straight into the camera’s lens, his eyes shining with sincerity, and told us in no uncertain terms, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”? I tell you, I get all choked up every time I recall that valiant travesty.
Of course, the foregoing examples pertain to presidents, not members of Congress (though Johnson and Nixon had previously been congressmen). But lest you think that the examples lack relevance, I ask you to acknowledge that whereas your average member of Congress is known by one and all to be a thief and a liar, the men who have ascended to the presidency have been, as politicians go, the crème de la crème―each of them the sort of man that every red-blooded American mother wants her son to grow up to be.
Once you get down in the political gutter with congressional paragons such as Wilbur Mills, Dan Flood, Joe McDade, Dan Rostenkowski, Tom Delay, William Jefferson, and a thousand others cut from the same rough cloth, of course, the wicket gets a bit stickier. In their company, you’d best keep one hand on your wallet and the other on your Glock 9mm.
Moving closer to the current field of play, we encounter the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose chairman is the distinguished gentleman (as they say) Henry A. Waxman of the great state (as they say) of California. Waxman, a steadfast defender of the widows and orphans of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood, has been around for a long time, so we all know what kind of man he is. When mothers see him coming down the street, they frantically herd their children indoors, much as the womenfolk did in the Old West when the desperados rode into town. Owing to his relentless efforts to augment the powers of the Food and Drug Administration over the decades, Waxman has more blood on his hands than the typical Third World dictator. (If you don’t know about all the deaths and suffering the FDA causes, you’d best look into the matter, because you may be the next to fall victim to its protective benevolence.) Other members of Waxman’s rogue’s gallery do not add much cream to the chairman’s bogus butter.
If Clemens is charged with perjury, making false statements to government officials, or obstruction of justice and convicted, he might be sentenced to years in prison, a fate that any member of Congress selected at random deserves a thousand times more than he does.
To avoid the government’s proceeding with this harebrained, autocratic investigation, I venture to make a more sporting proposal, which would permit the assigned FBI agents to get back to ferreting out the terrorists who are working tirelessly to destroy the Sears Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Mount Rushmore, all in one mighty wallop. I say: give Henry Waxman a bat and send him up to the plate; give Roger Clemens the ball and send him to the mound; then let nature take its course.
Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. His most recent book is Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government. He is also the author of Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society.