Saturday, April 15, 2006

When the Vice President was booed as he threw out the first pitch Tuesday at the Washington Nationals’ home opener, it was a clear repudiation as real and significant as what greeted the President at the Coretta Scott King Funeral back in February. Neither was a staged political protest, which is what makes them especially significant. These kinds of spontaneous expressions of popular sentiment are rare in our time, and as ever, represent the greatest danger to the designs of any who would be king. There is no forum more fundamentally American than a baseball stadium, and whereas politics should transcend sport, sports also transcends politics. When a national leader of Mr. Cheney’s stature is booed loudly by a clear majority of fans of the Nationals and the Mets, it’s an ill wind for sure.

Cheney and Bush, the Dr. Evil and Mini-Me of American politics can’t pretend to be regular guys anymore. But it’s no wonder they’ve spent most of the past five and a half years in hiding, Mr. Bush in the brush at Crawford, and Mr. Cheney, in his super-secret bat cave in an “undisclosed location” somewhere deep in the bowels of the capital. I’m sure it’s been this administration’s big conundrum: If you’re out among the people they’ll nail you as phonies in no time, but if you hide out too long, they’ll figure out sooner or later that you’re hiding from them. And conventional wisdom has it that people don’t hide out unless they’ve got something to hide. Nowadays whenever Lenny and Squiggy do pop up it seems like that old carnival game “whack-a-mole.” They’ve been getting nailed by that mallet a lot lately.

There were no exit polls at RFK stadium last Tuesday to determine what all that booing was about, but I suspect it wasn’t any one thing—the war or taxes or healthcare—but the same kind of gut reaction we have to people like that former special ed teacher, Heather Faria, who collected over $60,000 pretending to have stomach cancer. Or Sarah Everson, the woman who somehow feigned having sextuplets, whose husband, Kris, says they did it "out of financial reasons." Or Clayton Daniels, the Texas graverobber who faked his own death for life insurance money using a corpse purloined from a local potter’s field. If any of these people had thrown the first pitch of the season, I imagine they’d have gotten booed, too.

OK, so lying is an acknowledged part of politics, a necessary means to a more noble end, some say. But what happens when there’s no end in sight? Well, people start booing at you, is what. And if you stick around they’ll start throwing things, too. Epithets and curses first, then rotten fruit, and before too long, punches. Because what people hate more than a liar is a liar who thinks he can get away with lying to them again and again and again. If I were Mr. Cheney, I wouldn't stick around for the seventh inning stretch.

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