Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tech, Money & Sports: George W. Bush, The End Is Near

Writing a coda to the presidency of George W. Bush is surprisingly tough. Almost every major publication in the United States has written and published their final laments for a presidency gone so terribly, horribly wrong.

None of you need to hear again the litany of horrors Bush and his inner circle have inflicted on America and the world: 9/11, two major wars with no real end for either in sight, Katrina, New Orleans, Gitmo, the use of torture, Abu Ghraib, alienating nearly every political ally of the United States, the emboldening of America’s enemies like al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, national debt set to exceed $10 trillion, the near-collapse of what was once known as the world’s most powerful economy. It's Mission Accomplished alright.

Even Osama bin Laden probably couldn’t have imagined this kind of endgame back on Sept. 11, 2001. Hell, when comedians like Jon Stewart can barely contain their anguish, anger and outright indignation on The Daily Show, no longer interested in generating laughs vis-à-vis irony or sarcasm, it's gotten pretty damn bad.

Bush is about to spend his post-Presidency years in the wilderness of seclusion and near-universal hatred around the world. There will be no lasting tributes. There will be no Presidential Library. He is spending his remaining years as a dark vision of enmity for Americans - a man who personifies the worst characteristics of the American Dream turned nightmare.

It's hard to believe, but one of America’s Top Five Worst Presidents (there’s considerable debate if he is the worst, but only future historians will be able to say for sure) is nearly gone.

But since this is a sports blog, I want to talk about what the Bush Era has meant for sports culture in North America.

If there's one tip of the iceberg for what the Bush Era has meant for sports culture, it’s undoubtedly this week’s revelation that FOX Sports’ Troy Aikman, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver have been travelling to NFL games and this year’s World Series accompanied by armed U.S. federal marshals.

In many ways, this is just another in a very, very long line of government abuses of taxpayer funds over the past eight years (let’s not mince words and suggest any Presidency has been squeaky-clean and responsible with taxpayer funds). But what this kind of story suggests is another example of the cynical, abusive, wasteful nature of the Bush Era: Three sportscasters getting the Five-Star Treatment with taxpayer money?

The Bush Era culture of unabashed greed and cavalier attitude towards the public infected professional sports like a virus in the past eight years. The FOX story is ultimately harmless (as Shysterball noted, if something happens to Buck, Thom Brennaman becomes their lead baseball play-by-play man), but it's a window into the soulless, money-hungry nature of the sports-industrial complex that has left us all jaded.

It’s a sentiment that sports, like business and politics, has become divorced from the people these institutions presume to serve. Accountability, leadership and cooperation seem like sick, unfunny punch lines nowadays.

In the past eight years, we’ve seen some truly awe-inspiring moments of selfishness in pro sports. We’ve seen players like Mark McGwire and possibly Roger Clemens either lie or take the Fifth to Congressional committees in front of millions of people in vain efforts to save their own skins from permanent damage (talk about wasted energy).

We’ve seen the inequities of baseball revenues increase to the point of absurdity. We’ve seen rich teams get much, much richer and everyone else barely holding on. The survivial of the fittest mentality America used to use as a quiet turn of phrase to justify its numerous "bad acts," foreign and domestic, metastasized into something else in America during the Bush Years; the utility of saying "I care about me first, screw you all" became particularly self-evident the day sports reporters railed at the lunacy of America’s Most Hated Team, the Yankees, spending $400 million in one week and launching the New Yankee Stadium during a time of economic austerity measures. The Washington Nationals' new ballpark was a prime example of government without representation.

We’ve seen what hubris and hypocrisy can do to an entire sports league with the jaw-dropping decline of the NHL. Case in point: The Phoenix Coyotes –- a team on the verge of bankruptcy due to poor managerial decisions and a market best described as ambivalent. Even after the two-faced parlour game that was the season-killing Lockout of 2004-05, the NHL has fallen into an economic tailspin, has no major TV deal in America and has alienated fans across the continent. In the zero-sum game that is pro hockey, the unabashed greed of players and owners alike have killed whatever goodwill towards hockey there ever was in tenuous markets like Florida or Nashville.

These are just a few examples. And really, listing them all off isn’t going to accomplish anything.

Bush and Co. didn’t make these aspects of professional sports happen themselves. But it’s also naïve to think sports is distinct and separate from politics. If anything, sports and politics got a lot closer (some would say much too close) during the Bush Years. After all, the Rovian Strategy of Win At All And Every Cost, But Just Win It has a lot in common with sports. Even the fact both domains have the tendency to feature, once in awhile, people who will break the rules for the final big score at the end.

But it’s not as if sports are a pointless activity for the people who love it. Sure, sports are a business first and foremost — entertainment for the masses of people who just want something to celebrate about.

But it’s also, quite candidly, something people need to believe in. In a world full of empty slogans, false rhetoric and strange analogies involving pit bulls and lipstick, sports is something a person can have faith in . We can see it, touch it or relate to it unfailingly. It’s real. It’s a place of transcendence, emotion and transformation. It reminds people that no, life isn’t all about living paycheque to paycheque or coming home to a house full of pain and dreams unrealized. It’s something you, your neighbour and someone 3,000 km away can share in.

Thing is, belief is a precarious thing. If the Bush Years accomplished one cerebral, indefinable truth these past eight years, it's this: Bush made people stop believing.

People stopped believing in a lot of things during his Presidency: Government run by people for people, businesses that didn't so brazenly and publicly act with contempt and ignorance of average people –- the list goes on and on. When people lose faith in their leaders, it won’t be long before people lose faith in the institutions that support them.

But there's hope.

Two great aspects of American Life came into their own during these eight years of tumult that may help restore faith in sports: The Internet and Barack Obama.

Back in 2000, the Internet and blogs were largely ineffectual to the way things were done in politics, business and sports (the dot-com crash now looks like a small-time correction compared to today). While it’s important to not overstate the case at the risk of OOLF's own potential for hubris, blogs and the Web have become powerful tools to keep our leaders in check, balance power and report stories that can change things.

Even the 44th President, Barack Obama, has done more before his inauguration to restore hope to Americans than Bush could ever achieve in eight years. He’s brought back the idea that the ideas of accountability, leadership and vision have places in government; let’s hope that it also filters into areas of business and sports. It has more to do with the economy than any talk about change, but the Cleveland Indians, coming off a sub-.500 season, are holding town hall-style meetings to try to rally their core fans.

Obama’s even ventured into one of America’s most precious sports institutions —- college football -- and inspired the possibility of change in one of the most hidebound sports institutions. Did anyone really swallow whole the notion that the Florida Gators were national champions after that unwatchable BCS title game broadcast on FOX Sports with the heartbeat-away Thom Brennaman mucking up the call? (Brennaman is the son of a long-time baseball broadcaster, Marty Brennaman, so how appropriate that it was graced by someone who has been legacy pick all his life -- like Bush!)

At the end of the day, Bush’s Reign of Error has instilled a lesson into all of us: Ideas about the world are meaningless if you can’t back them up with responsibility and action. Cynicism is only possible when we allow it to happen, for taking control of ourselves and our democratic institutions means more than just concerning yourself with just yourself.

The sports world has seen some rough times during the Bush Era. It is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Of course, keeping the faith is important. As goes one of the lines in The Dark Knight — perhaps the single most defining film of the Bush Era —"people deserve to have their faith rewarded."

Enjoy Inauguration Day next Tuesday.


kinger said...

"the litany of horrors Bush and his inner circle have inflicted on America and the world: 9/11..."

Bush and his inner circle inflicted 9/11 on the world?

Dennis Prouse said...

Yes, they did! Apparently he also created Hurricane Katrina, and aimed it directly at poor black people in New Orleans because he is a racist.

I get that everyone wants to take a final kick at Bush on his way out the door, and some of them are deserved. I really do wish, though, that those with BDS would get their story straight. Is Bush a hopeless dufus, or an evil puppet master? Both cannot be true, yet his opponents routinely alternate between the two characterizations, sometimes within seconds.

Greg said...

Two things:

1) Bush and Co. were directly involved in taking no preventative action towards 9/11. Bush and his inner circle were informed in the summer of 2001 of plans to attack the United States by both Israeli and German Intelligence. Ergo, they were negligent in their duties to protect America and thus partially responsible.

2) At the end of the day, who cares if Bush is a hopeless dufus of evil puppet master? He's the bloody President. The buck stops with his office. I'm not going to post an article on shadow governments or the Darth Vader-like qualities of Dick Cheney.

sager said...

Steve Nash and Chuck Klosterman put their heads together and answered all of this a while back -- sports in the Bush era.

For what it's worth, I never saw Bush as doofus or puppet master. It was never clear why he wanted to be president when he had no interest in public policy or in stepping outside his comfort zone.

Bush wanted to be president. Barack Obama wants to be a good president.

Ron Rollins said...

Wow, President Bush is reponsible for a hurricane? An act of nature? God gets a pass, but the president is held to fault?

And as far as New Orleans, maybe if the city hadn't turned the Corps of Engineers when they said the leeves weren't good enough the city didn't want to pay their share of the costs, then they wouldn't have needed to blame the government for something that is a municipal and state issue.

Learn something about the government in the country. Nothing that happened in New Orleans was the federal governments fault. They just get blamed because they didn't cough up money fast enough for the politicians who actually failed to take action.

sager said...

I'm just flattered to get a comment from Ron (Baseball Over Here) is one of the best reads going.

It's closing the door after the cow got out to say who's to blame for anything that happened on Bush's watch. It's also beside the point. Greg was taking a look at the way the sports world was marked and marred by the American political landscape of the past eight years, which was pretty terrible.

People say "Reagan-era" all the time without judging what Ronald Reagan was like as a president or a person. You hear "Nixon era" the same way -- it might refer to the way people dressed in 1970 as much as it did the SALT treaty or his visit to China.

kinger said...

Bush took no preventive action? What about Clinton? What exactly did he do?

I'm done with this blog if it's just going to become an echo chamber for the usual leftist silliness that generally is smart enough to keep its illogical face out of sports websites.

Ron is right on, here, but it doesn't take away from the fact that this kind of unoriginal leftist baloney doesn't belong on a sports blog. And no, it's not a post on Bush's record on sports; the President takes very little direct action on that front. Plus, you have to get quite a bit below the jump to find any mention of sports.

Ron Rollins said...

Thanks for the nice words. Greatly appreciated.

Just wanted to point out, that I kind of disagree with this blog, but always respect everyone's opinion and point of view, even if it's different than mine.

One thing, whether you're pro or anti-Bush, I will admit it has been one of the most divisive times in history. Hopefully we can all move on.

And Aston Villa was a good choice. I had to watch Man U win again on Sunday and I'm sick of it.

sager said...

No worries, Ron ... how ironic that I chilled on Villa because they were harder to follow than one of the Big 4.

Ron Rollins said...

I'm in Bournemouth, on the southwest coast, but everyone is a Big 4 fan. No loyalty to any teams in the area.

Too much like the Yankess, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs crap.

Anonymous said...


It's a very moot point to talk about blame here when it comes to New Orleans and the levees pre-Katrina - you may be correct about the City of New Orleans not addressing the issue properly, but the Bush Administration's response to the crisis across all regions affected by Katrina - including New Orleans proper - was beyond the pale horrible. Go and ask the citizens of New Orleans what they think.

Kinger, Clinton did nothing as well. But this article had nothing to do with him. Clinton deserves criticism for his administration's inaction over Al-Qaida too, but the fact Bush had real, discernible Intelligence indicating an attack was imminent three months before 9/11 is negligence writ large.

BTW: if you can't stand illogical leftist silliness as you put it, why are you reading and commenting here? This "leftist silliness" (it's not even Leftist!) got endorsed by one of the most overwhelming majorities in American history and Bush opinion polls are at historic lows for outgoing Presidents. Apparently you have no idea what "leftist" thinking actually is.

I'm going to take the word of American people over yours.

sager said...

@ Anon.: Kinger's one of the writers, one of our steadiest commenters and a good friend, that's why he's here.

Jeff Dertinger said...

"I'm done with this blog if it's just going to become an echo chamber for the usual leftist silliness that generally is smart enough to keep its illogical face out of sports websites."

So you're taking your ball and going home? Very mature response, Kinger.
No matter what side of the political fence you're on, the fact is that politics infects every facet of our lives, including the sports we write about, read about and watch.
This is a blog — which is basically a series of opinion columns written specifically for the web. Greg stated an opinion. You disagree and, instead of debating the topic, decide to go on a childish rant.
Grow up an present yourself like the respected member of the media you claim to be. Share an opinion, don't waste our time with your own brand of "silliness"

sager said...

Kinger will be cool. No worries. It's not like we're talking about Jim Rice getting into Cooperstown here.

kinger said...

@Anon - "one of the most overwhelming majorities in American history"

Obama got 52.87%. That's not even close to an overwhelming majority.

By that logic, Reaganism was truth defined. And even I don't believe that.

sager said...

Reagan smash!

kinger said...

Oh, and Jeff, I actually have to take your comment as a compliment. It implies I either am, or purport to be, a member of the media. Neither of which is true. I'm movin' on up!

Jeff Dertinger said...

Well let me apologize (or extend a hearty "you're welcome" if you will) for being so out in left field. (groan)

But, if you are who I believe you are, have you not done radio segments, webcasts and even written posts on this site reporting on Kingston sports news? Those are mediums, and you are delivering information through those mediums.

I never said you were a paid member.

sager said...

Kinger's a pro in every sense.

kinger said...

Except in the sense that I'm supposed to be a university student.

Ron Rollins said...

To Anonymous, just so you know, I don't normally respond to anyone by that name. If you can't be bothered to take 10 seconds out of your life to type in a name, then I can't be bothered to answer you.

Give up a name that I can address you by, and I'll answer any question/comment you have. But I don't talk to telemarketers, I don't open the door for salesmen, and I don't respond to Anonymous.