George Will

WASHINGTON -- America's ambitious educators -- the likes of Princeton's Rev. John Witherspoon (1723-1794) and Harvard's Charles William Eliot (1834-1926) -- now include Reps. Tom Davis and Henry Waxman, chairman and ranking member respectively of the House Government Reform Committee, which, come Thursday morning, wants to instruct the nation, and especially all the little boys and girls watching C-SPAN. The committee's topic will be steroids in baseball, the committee having decided that there has been a serious insufficiency of talk about that subject since its much-talked-about appearance in the president's State of the Union address 14 months ago.

     The committee has discovered that its duties include informing all Americans, and especially children, that dangerous and illegal behavior is dangerous and illegal. So the committee has subpoenaed some baseball and players association officials and some current and retired players, including Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Committee staffers say it has not subpoenaed Barry Bonds because his presence might make the hearing a media circus. Heaven forfend.

     Cynics will say that, absent television, congressional behavior would be different. But to be fair to Waxman, he is a liberal representing Beverly Hills and Hollywood, so he is not expected to have a lick of sense regarding the limits of government, and he rarely sees a human activity that he does not think merits increased federal supervision. Davis, however, is a Republican whose Northern Virginia district is just up the road from Montpelier, home of James Madison, from whose writings Davis seems to have learned nothing about a government -- or a committee -- of enumerated powers.

     The Government Reform Committee, formerly Government Operations Committee, took today's name in 1995, during the ``Republican revolution'' to restore limited, modest government. The committee claims ``broad jurisdiction,'' meaning a license to rove whither it will in the name of ``oversight.''

     Fine. It can grandstand to its heart's content in the name of informing itself -- about government operations. But not to inform the rest of us about whatever the committee thinks we ought to be told.

     Philip Schiliro, chief of staff for the committee's Democrats, says: ``If Sammy Sosa hit 60 home runs three times without being on steroids, kids should know that. That's a great message for kids.'' Sentimentality trumps legality, and doing this or that for ``kids'' is the first and usually the final rhetorical refuge when government wants to wander where neither the Constitution nor common sense says it should.

     But Davis' Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids is shoving its oar into the steroids controversy tardily. Waxman says the committee must investigate because baseball's leaders will not ``do an investigation.'' But baseball, having been prodded by the president and the National Scold (John McCain), investigated the problem and then reopened and revised its collective bargaining agreement to institute more rigorous testing and more severe penalties that have substantially reduced the incidence of steroid use.

     Stanley Brand, attorney for those the committee has subpoenaed, says the House rule granting the committee's jurisdiction ``provides no indication'' that the committee is empowered ``to review a collective bargaining agreement between private parties.'' Not even the National Labor Relations Board, he says, evaluates ``the substantive merit of collective bargaining agreements.'' But imitation is the sincerest form of congressional behavior, so now Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, warns all sports everywhere, ``If you don't clean it up, we're going to clean it up for you.'' That is the voice of another conservative who has gone native in Washington.

     The one witness eager to testify is Canseco, who is flogging a book in which he accuses many players of using steroids. Jeff Merron of ESPN.com read the book -- has Canseco done that? -- and found:

     Canseco says that during spring training 2001, when playing for the Angels against the Mariners and their second baseman Bret Boone, ``I hit a double, and when I got out there to second base I got a good look at Boone. I couldn't believe my eyes. He was enormous. `Oh my God,' I said to him. `What have you been doing?' `Shhh,' he said. `Don't tell anybody.''' But in five Angels-Mariners games that spring, Canseco never reached second base.

     He recounts game six of the 2000 World Series -- which ended with game five. He recalls baseball in 1982 being ``closed'' to Latinos -- although there were 62 major leaguers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and more from other Latin countries.

     The Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids has found the witness it deserves.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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