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Juicin’ on Capitol Hill

Andrew Nesi | Thursday, February 21, 2008

Last week, the circus came to Washington. And I was invited.I watched from a House office building press room as Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, paraded onto Capitol Hill to testify about Clemens’ alleged steroid use before the House Oversight Committee. Circus is the only word for it. Fans lined the halls of the building, hoping to catch a glimpse of (and maybe an autograph from) the Rocket. Hundreds of journalists packed into the hearing room and an overflow room.The hearing, in the end, proved deeply embarrassing to both Clemens and McNamee. McNamee was torn into on national television. Congressmen called him a liar and a criminal and brought up a sexual assault charge in his past. But Clemens may have had it worse, as the committee detailed friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte’s deposition indicating that he believed Roger had used human growth hormone.The day after the hearing, though, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman wished it never happened. Waxman told reporters, “I’m sorry we had the hearing. I regret that we had the hearing. And the only reason we had the hearing was because Roger Clemens and his lawyers insisted on it.” Waxman had good reason to regret the hearings. While the hearings did, of course, embarrass Clemens and McNamee, the childishness of the representatives may have been the most shameful of all. Member by clueless member, the House Oversight Committee embarrassed itself. It was embarrassing that Representative William Clay of Missouri used part of his five minutes of questioning to ask Clemens which team he was going to represent in the Hall of Fame. Even Clemens had the good sense to realize how silly the question was, and told Clay he’d pretend it was never asked. Another Congressperson told Clemens that she was “sure” he was going somewhere considerably more prestigious than Cooperstown: Heaven. Still another showed four pictures of Clemens, suggested that she did not see a difference in his size over the years, and asked him about his workout regimen. If that doesn’t cut to the truth of the issue at hand, I don’t know what does.It was embarrassing that Rep. Tom Davis claimed that a medical question for Clemens resembled “a new definition of lynching.” Sure, some Congressmen were unfairly harsh, but lynching? I’d guess there might be a lynching victim or two who questions whether a white man who is practically asked for his autograph on his way to join the Great Almighty shares their pain.But worst of all, it was embarrassing to watch the frivolous idiocy into which the hearing devolved.The committee seemed to break down along party lines. Republicans seemed to believe Clemens, Democrats sided with McNamee. Many analysts immediately suggested that this could stem from Roger’s Republicanism. Clemens did, after all, prominently note that Bush 41 contacted him before the hearing to offer his support.But watching the hearing progress, another explanation seems more likely. Rep. Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, another senior Democrat, both indicated their anti-Clemens beliefs early in the hearing. In doing so, Waxman and Cummings sounded remarkably arrogant and self-important. Cummings, for one, scolded Roger in a tone normally reserved for misbehaving kindergarteners. And in the House office building halls, I overheard Waxman making a joke about Clemens ability to pay for his HGH using insurance before the hearing began.Republicans, then, fell into line as anti-Waxman and anti-Cummings. And, as such, they were almost all anti-McNamee and pro-Clemens. Its not that Republicans were predisposed to believe a Texan telling half-truths (at least, not in this case…), its that they needed to stand against Democrats no matter the issue, especially when the Democrats seem as Napoleonic-ly arrogant as Waxman did.It is an embarrassing display of the divisive partisanship that plagues Washington today. Even hearings about the credibility of witnesses and the role of steroids in baseball run along an apparently immutable fault line. Whether the topic is immigration, healthcare, tax cuts or, yes, baseball players, silly partisanship in Washington has overwhelmed any reasonable discussion.But the fact that this sort of partisanship about Clemens only exists in Washington – while I don’t have any hard numbers, I tend to doubt that a vast majority of Republican voters believe Clemens while a vast majority of Democratic voters don’t – suggests that partisanship on many issues isn’t endemic of our country, but of our government. The pettiness of Washington has created the bitter, inefficient politics that dominates today.We learned something from this hearing: Our politics are more divided and divisive than we are. At a certain point, we can blame petty politicians for the partisan state of our politics. If they disagree about baseball, they’ll disagree about anything, no matter how much citizens outside Washington are willing to cross party lines.Yes, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee brought the circus to Washington. And they exposed a whole lot of clowns along the way.

Andrew Nesi is a junior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. He hopes everybody ignores this column and continues to kick and scream about “The Vagina Monologues.” He can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.