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Steroid Circus on Capital Hill | The Nation

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Steroid Circus on Capital Hill

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Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, died this week at the age of 80. We remember Lantos for many things, but he's top of mind today as the man who gazed at the very first of these idiotic steroid hearings in 2005, and called it for what it was: "a theater of the absurd." Roger Clemens's face-off with Congress Wednesday officially moved the guardians of our democracy far beyond the absurd.

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Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin, The Nation’s sports correspondent, is the author, most recently, of Game Over: How Politics Has...

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Before we discuss one word of the tax-funded idiocy on display Wednesday at Representative Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, let's concede that there are only about 1,500 ways we can think of off the top of our heads that the committee's time could be better spent. They could be asking why the Bush Administration is so keen on bugging our phones, why it grants no-bid contracts to Dick Cheney's pals or why they're underfunding the Veterans Administration. Hell, they could be holding hearings on how it is Bush got that weird black eye a few years back. Anything but this.

Virginia Republican Representative Tom Davis--the guy with the pumpkin-colored hair--defended the idea of steroid hearings last month, saying, "This is one of the few things in a partisan, polarized town that the Republicans and Democrats are on the same page. It isn't on the budget or Iraq. But you've got to start somewhere."

Yet the anabolic circus was an absolute parade of partisanship. The positions of lawmakers on the dais seemed as hardened as those testifying. Clemens, under oath, declared that he had never taken steroids or human growth hormones. His ex-trainer Brian McNamee, a former cop, swears he did. So one person was lying, one was telling the truth, yet both presented to the camera fidgety faces of squirmy deceit. And we ask again, who cares? If steroid use is against the law, these people should be in court. Why are members of Congress focused on testimony as to whether abscesses on someone's buttocks could lead to a better earned-run average?

But the partisan lineup of majority Democrats going after Clemens and Republicans after McNamee made for bizarre political theater. While Democrats were calling Clemens a liar, Republicans like Chris Shays were shouting that McNamee was, of all things, trading in controlled substances. "You deal drugs!" the Congressman said. Yes, Chris. That's usually who testifies in drug cases.

Clemens is a Republican with long-standing ties to the Bush family. During his testimony, Rocket Roger invoked some strange words of encouragement--"Stay high and keep my head up"--that the syntactically challenged George Herbert Walker Bush once gave him. Not the best choice of words at a hearing about drugs.

And the Bush patronage is likely to continue, even if Clemens eventually is charged with perjury as a result of his testimony. McNamee's lawyer Richard Emery today predicted a pardon from Bush the Younger: "It would be the easiest thing in the world for George W. Bush, given the corrupt proclivities of his administration to say Roger Clemens is an American hero, Roger Clemens helped children," Emery told the Associated Press. "It's my belief they have some reason to believe they can get a pardon."

Clemens is also reportedly close to his former boss, Houston Astros owner Drayton McClane, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to various Republican candidates, and to Rangers owner Tom Hicks, the former chair of the Giuliani for President campaign.

Another priceless moment was when Clemens was taken to task on his assertion that he hadn't used steroids, only B-12. Representative Bruce Braley asked him if he had an approved medical reason for taking B-12, if he had been diagnosed with anemia, senile dementia or Alzheimer's, or whether he was a vegetarian or a vegan. The word "vegan" threw Clemens for a big loop. "I don't know what that is," Clemens replied. "I'm sorry."

Having already blamed his wife for getting injected with B-12 to buff up for her appearance in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Clemens tossed responsibility on dear old mom. "My mother in 1988 suggested I take B-12," Clemens said. "I always assumed it was a good thing, not a bad thing."

Sounds like what a lot of people thought when the Democrats took over Congress.

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