The Clemens hearing as national symbol.
With this critical difference: This time, not even the New York Post would play along. The overwhelming sentiment remains against Clemens, while most viewers are puzzled by how his veracity became a partisan issue. Clemens is a rich and politically well-connected Texan, who upon being named in the Mitchell Report immediately received a consolatory phone call from George H.W. Bush and who was chaperoned to his pre-hearing meet-and-greet sessions with committee members by Congressman Ted Poe, a Republican from Harris County, whose major urban center is Houston. The aggressive lawyering on his behalf and the Rocket's own high-and-hard indignation is heavy with implication: Don't mess with Texas;Don't mess with the Bushes. Whoever's direct bidding it was, the Republican committee members were more than happy to grandstand about the supposedly degenerate character of Brian McNamee, even as one of the worst and most flagrant cheaters in the history of American sports sat five feet to his left.
To take one example, Rep. Christopher Shays repeatedly tried to force McNamee to accept the epithet "drug dealer," even though, as the depositions made clear, Clemens initially acquired his own drugs, then later dispatched McNamee to procure more. Only a fool argues first principles with a fool, especially when the first principle is Christopher Shays is a fool. But Shays' shameful performance (following on his shameful performance during the Fallujah-Blackstone hearings, the Mark Foley scandal, and the aftermath of Abu Ghraib) points up the truly sad revelation behind the Clemens-McNamee face-off: How deeply ingrained the habits of bad government have become in recent years. The conservative contempt for McNamee hides a broader contempt: Contempt for Henry Waxman and George Mitchell's presumption that a dose of good government could go a long way in healing an otherwise brutally ill sport.
Over the course of the hearing, in which McNamee was called a liar, disgusting, and, on the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever—and against his own sworn testimony—a tell-all in search of a book deal, one thing became clear: That Clemens' defense, in its deranged righteousness, echoes to perfection the heedlessness and swagger of the Bush years, the arrogant stupidity of an administration that will no doubt pardon Roger Clemens should he ever be indicted for perjury. It says, Here in Houston, boy, we make the rules. With Shils' idea of "national communion" in mind, I think we can see a Clemens rehab job for what it really is: the opposite of baseball.
Stephen Metcalf is Slate's critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s.
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.