Frank Rich makes good points in his column declaring Tiger Woods his choice for Person of the Year, but as often happens when a writer tries to use a single human-sized example to symbolize an entire country’s collective experiences, the metaphor gets stretched and stretched to the point that it is as overblown and unwieldy and bears about as much resemblance to the original as a balloon in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it threatens to drift away on the writer or carry him away on his own windstorm of words.
Happens all the time.
In fact, I think it just happened to me.
As Rich himself acknowledges, neither Tiger Woods nor any of the other sharpers, con-artists, and thieves he mentions are new types original to the last ten years. What strikes Rich as our time’s unique twist to things is how many people who should have known better and perhaps did know better joined in the general bamboozlement and what a nation of self-conned suckers we made of ourselves.
The column is worth reading as a reminder of how collectively stupid and dishonest we managed to be even when the frauds being perpetrated were as obvious and easily seen through as a six year old’s lie about how the last of the cookies gotten eaten up.
But I have a question about something. Rich writes:
Yet we wanted to suspend disbelief. Much of the country, regardless of party, didn’t want to question its leaders, no matter how obviously they were hyping any misleading shred of intelligence that could fit their predetermined march to war. It’s the same impulse that kept many from questioning how Mark McGwire’s and Barry Bonds’s outlandishly cartoonish physiques could possibly be steroid-free.
Bonds is his own story, and that’s just it. I remember McGwire being open from the start about the fact he was self-medicating. I don’t recall if he ever used the word “steroids,” but I’m pretty sure he told anyone who asked he was taking whatever it was he did call it for the specific purpose of making himself stronger and more durable because he was tired of breaking down all all the time. McGwire was a good ballplayer who couldn’t be a great one because he was so fragile. The question about McGwire, which can never be answered, is did he hit those 70 home runs directly because of the stuff he took or did he hit them because the stuff he took allowed him to play in enough games to hit them in.
Babe Ruth hit 10 fewer home runs playing in a season that included 8 fewer games.
Plus, it wasn’t clear he was breaking any rules because it wasn’t clear there were any specific rules.
(I’ll let Rich slide on the fact that 1998 wasn’t part of this decade.)
What I’m saying is that people weren’t looking at McGwire, or Sammy Sosa, the way the were at Bonds, so I think we can be excused for not seeing through a con in the works.
Am I remembering this right? Or am I continuing the phenomenon Rich is describing in his column?