Normally, watching Congress in action makes me feel sick. Watching eight hours of Congressional hearings on baseball's steroid policy should have put me in a hospital. This time, however, there was something really encouraging. A glimmer of hope for the liberty-minded.
Oh, there was the usual trampling of the Constitution, the abuse of power, the gleeful bureaucrats stomping on someone's rights. The waving of the bloody shirt, the banality, the intimidation, the posturing, and of course, a bucket full of lies, distortions, and half-truths. In other words, Congress was being Congress.
But halfway through the proceedings, something remarkable happened, something that made me sit up in my chair. A Congressman actually hinted that there might be someplace immune from the federal government. Where, you ask, is this place beyond the reach of Congress?
Why, the moon, of course.
It wasn't a full-blown admission that Congress is limited in any way by the Constitution or common decency, but it was something to behold nonetheless. "This isn't happening on the moon," said Representative Lantos (D-CA), "so we have oversight responsibility." Of course you do Mr. Lantos. The Constitution clearly states that Congress has oversight responsibility for planet earth and all of its inhabitants.
I know what some of you are thinking: "Sure, they say they won't regulate baseball on the moon, but that's what they said about ______ (fill in the blank with any human activity). There's no way they'd let someone use steroids on the moon." You're probably right. Still, it was good to see at least one Congressman confront the theory of limited government.
And if they pull the ball away on the Moon, take heart there's always Mars.
Guilty As Charged
I was dismayed when Congress issued subpoenas to baseball players. I consider it a clear breach of our rights to be forced to drop what one is doing and travel to the seat of government at their bidding. If one man can compel another's service in this way, we are hardly living in a free country. What Congress did was to require involuntary servitude from each person they coerced into appearing.
As I watched and listened to the hearings I found myself fantasizing about some of the answers I would have given. I think my opening statement would have been a recitation of the Declaration of Independence followed by relevant sections of the Constitution, such as the enumerated powers and the ninth and tenth amendments. Someone probably would have interrupted me and asked what I was doing.
"I was just reading you your rights," I'd say to the committee.
They eventually asked everyone if they would be okay with the federal government stepping in to force a tougher steroid policy. I would have said the following:
"No, I would not be okay with that. I don't recognize your right to call me here. I've committed no crime, nor been accused of one. Yet you treat me exactly as one treats a slave or some other form of property. I don't recognize your right to regulate baseball or any other industry for that matter. I do not believe you have the authority to prohibit the use of steroids or any other drug. I don't recognize your right to grant baseball anti-trust exemption. Come to think of it, I don't recognize your right to pass anti-trust legislation of any kind. Your unconstitutional labor laws and your constant meddling in private affairs are the primary reason this problem is here in the first place and if it were up to me, you and the members of this committee would be impeached for violating your oath to uphold the Constitution."
At this point I'd probably be led away in handcuffs to await my trial for contempt of Congress, a charge any sane person would be damn proud of.
A National Crisis?
What really is the problem with baseball anyway? When steroid use by athletes became news in the 80s, baseball wasn't logically perceived as a sport that would have problems with the drug. Football was the first sport to deal with it. Track and field followed after that. Baseball has only recently seen steroid use, and so far it has been limited to only one group of players, power-hitters.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s I worked a sportswriter and steroids was not on the radar screen as far as baseball was concerned. It's no surprise that it took several years for the league to wake up to what was going on. The commissioner testified Thursday that it was 1998 when he began to become focused on steroids. That's about the time everyone started to think about the topic and it would be a few more years before the consensus to act grew.
Baseball's response, however lacking Congress may feel it is, has been understandable. Baseball is a business like everything else. If the integrity of the sport is at risk, baseball owners will do what is necessary to ensure that the fans leave as satisfied customers. With records falling that probably should stand, and with new revelations of steroid use, baseball moved to correct the problem. This hardly calls for federal action. As it turns out, the government has been a hindrance, since, as the commissioner of baseball pointed out, federal labor laws made it impossible to do what they felt was best for the game.
Left to its own devices, baseball will almost certainly do what is best for the sport and what is best for the fans. If not, so what? No one has an inalienable right to quality big-league baseball. If Congress wants to help it can repeal all the federal laws that stifle competition. Upstart leagues should pose an ever-present warning to baseball to provide the most satisfying entertainment possible. Leagues would be free to enter or not enter whatever kind of agreements they like with regard to players, unions, and franchises, be it on salaries, home-run records, or steroid use.
Congress Needs A Body Count
Worse than the manufacturing of a steroid crisis in baseball is the shameful way Congress used some of the victims of steroid abuse.
Congress knows it doesn't have the legal authority to regulate baseball, so it made sure to dress up in the cloak of moral authority instead. That is why they brought in the families of teenagers who committed suicide while using steroids. The sole purpose of those individuals being at the hearings was to give the appearance of moral legitimacy to action that goes beyond the boundaries of federal power and common sense. By constantly reminding everyone that steroids pose a grave danger to America's youth, Congress obscured the spectacle of the government violating our rights.
If you suspect that Congress is overstating the dangers of steroids, you're correct. According to testimony Thursday, only a fraction of one percent of the population will use steroids illegally. Elite athletes are a rare bird in this or any society. Even though many young people want to succeed in athletics, very few will be good enough at sports to be attracted to steroids for that extra edge. Ultimately, if kids are using performance-enhancing drugs, it is the responsibility of their families, coaches, and athletic organizations to police them, not the Congress of the United States.
In a proceeding overflowing with low points, using these tragedies as a human shield for federal misdeeds and Congressional grandstanding was the lowest blow of all.
March 21, 2005