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Sailing

Let’s take walk on this strike

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, February 14, 1995

The botched effort of the Clinton administration to intervene in the baseball strike is another example of the intrusive and overbearing culture of Washington — and another reason why this culture must be broken if America is to reach its full potential.

In a late-inning move, the president dispatched former Labor Secretary William Usery to mediate the dispute between millionaire owners and millionaire players. The president gave them an ultimatum to reach an agreement, but they didn’t. So he gave them — forgive the oxymoron — another ultimatum. When that didn’t work, either, he handed the ball to Congress, asking for authority to impose a settlement through compulsory arbitration. But the relief pitchers wouldn’t come out of the bullpen. The Democratic leadership embraced the Clinton proposal, but Republican leaders balked. Why, they said, should the federal government get involved in a baseball strike?

Why indeed? The Clinton administration’s response to the baseball strike lays bare many of the pathologies of the culture of Washington.

One is the idea that “politics is everything.” Nearly all problems — social, economic, labor-management relations, even sports — are seen as elements of a government agenda, and only government “solutions” are considered for those problems.

Another is the idea that “politics is me.” Like Narcissus, self-absorbed senior officials — such as Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who pushed for this intervention — develop an exaggerated sense of their own importance to the future of the republic and the well-being of their countrymen. The Greeks called this “hubris” and placed it among the most dangerous of human failings.

A third is the idea that “politics is appearances.” In Washington, appearances are often more important than reality; looking good matters more than doing good. Doubtless, Clinton’s advisers told the president he would “look presidential” and “get a boost in the polls” if he could (appear to) settle the baseball strike. This reliance on polls rather than principles to drive decisions is why so many politicians today are viewed as plastic and as pygmies compared to times past.

In the baseball strike, both players and owners seem to be acting on a gut instinct — not polls. But the instinct is greed. Even Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a hero to some for his refusal to hire replacement players, seems motivated as much by his pocketbook as by principles: Lawyer Angelos, it turns out, made his millions representing organized labor.

There are no heroes in the baseball strike. Two groups of millionaires have put their greed ahead of fans, concessionaires and other stakeholders in the national pastime. A settlement will be reached only when players and owners conclude that their obstinacy is harming their own interests, too.

But there is no reason why government should get involved. The baseball strike does not threaten American liberty, safety or prosperity. Nor do discomfited baseball fans. For Congress to interrupt work on a balanced budget amendment or the crime bill to intervene as unwelcome umpires in a labor dispute would be the clearest example yet of how Washington’s convoluted culture skews priorities.

If we don’t draw the line here, next thing you know the federal government will be funding the arts and humanities, public radio and television, and who knows what else.

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