Aaron Hernandez, the former star tight end of the New England Patriots NFL football team, was found hanging in his cell yesterday, and shortly thereafter, he was pronounced dead.  Hernandez was serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole for a murder of which he was convicted, and reports from prison officials are that he had written the phrase "John 3:16" across his forehead before hanging himself with his bed sheets.  That verse promises eternal life to all those who believe in Jesus Christ.  That last fact is significant because it suggests that Hernandez was a person of faith, and that in itself begs the questions of what kind of a man he was in reality, and how he got that way.  Hernandez had a multi-million dollar contract to play football professionally, and he had a daughter, whose mother he was engaged to marry, as well.  What would make a man with so much do something as odious as commit murder?

I was, at one time, a college administrator, and in that capacity, I became the campus judicial officer.  Our school had a national champion athletics department that won at least three national titles just in the eight years I was there.  Those championship teams also provided some of the fodder for my judicial activities.  What I noticed then, and what I have noticed both before and since, is the sense of entitlement that seems to be imbued in athletes starting from the first signs of superlative potential.  Their menial sins are forgiven as a matter of course, and the concept of consequences for acts committed quickly falls by the wayside.  There have been stories of prodigies falling--not just athletes, but actors and actresses, politicians and even superior students--for as long as I can remember going back to Marvin Barnes, Fatty Arbuckle, Leopold and Loeb and even Donald Trump, whose business practices have always been dubious, and who knows how many others.  But today, sports seems to produce most of the misguided celebrities who go astray, and it is a national trait that produces them.  We are obsessed with competition, and winning...at any cost...justifies allowing these young people to wallow in a kind of impunity that convinces them that they are above the law.  I would argue that Aaron Hernandez's final words were scrawled on his forehead in a last attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of others, death being the only refuge from his misdeeds that he could find.  In the end, Hernandez seems to have recognized that the fault was not in his stars, but in himself, to paraphrase Shakespeare, but in reality, he was destined to be what he became.  He did have a history of misbehavior, like many other successful amateur athletes, and though the fact that his misconduct culminated in a murder makes him nearly unique, the that led him to the crime started when he grew to be bigger than the other boys and discovered that he could catch a football and knock other boys down.  The adults around him not only extolled his prowess, they cultivated in him, albeit unintentionally, a belief that he could not be touched because no matter what he did as a boy and later as a young man, he never paid a significant price.  It was a lesson learned from repetition, more of the lack of reaction to malfeasance than because of the deeds he committed themselves.

My point is that our culture has become one of vicarious success.  We live through our sports heroes and other celebrities, and we therefore forgive them everything...even the unforgivable.  And by doing so, we ensure the destruction of some of them.  When they fall, we think of their condign punishments as just deserts and never consider the fact that we taught them to do what they do by rewarding them for doing so.  It is a trend not unique to this country; soccer, for one sport, produces its own bad boys world over.  But we hold ourselves out as exceptional.  What that suggests is that we are obliged to deal with this problem first, loudly and effectively for the benefit of the world around us both here and abroad, and perhaps, we should start with our athletes...when they first play in little league or pee-wee football.

This problem belongs to all of us.  When we pay exorbitant sums to go to professional ball games, we reinforce the notion that a superior athlete has a value that justifies a disproportionate price for the rest of us to pay so that we can enjoy his prowess vicariously.  We drop everything to watch and listen to them on television and in movies, on CD's and DVD's, even elect them president, and then we wonder why they can't seem to get their lives together.  We are the reason why as much as they are.  

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

All of this nostalgic puling about the exercise of the pretentiously named "nuclear option" eliminating the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees is nothing but the hand-wringing of a bunch of modern Hamiltonians who think they are not just politicians, but special guardians of the democracy.  It is nothing but hogwash.  This filibuster that Democrats, especially Democrats, see as emblematic of senatorial comity and sage deliberation has never been used as far as I can ascertain...not even when Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were being considered.  Further, there has never been a case in which a president has put a nominee before The Senate for consideration for whom The Senate never took a vote except when the nominee was withdrawn or was withdrawn and then confirmed for the higher office of Chief Justice...except one: Merrick Garland.  And the Republicans did that.  There has also never been a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee even though there have been nominees confirmed with less than 60 votes, the number required to end a filibuster.  Both Alito--a doctrinaire conservative more intractable than Scalia was--and Thomas--also a doctrinaire conservative, but such a "deep thinker" that the number of questions he has asked from the bench could be counted on one hand...one finger if I recall correctly--were confirmed by less than sixty votes, and it is certain that the Democrats didn't want either of them on the Supreme Court for life.  Yet, though both men theoretically could have been filibustered to prevent their ascensions to The Court, neither was, and thus, the exercise of repealing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees begs the question without addressing it.  The question is this: what good is the right to filibuster a nominee if it never gets used, and who gives a damn if it goes the way of all things.  To date, only the Republicans have used any procedural tactic of any kind to prevent a nominee from getting a vote, and they did it with Merrick Garland, President Obama's last nominee.  In effect then, the only use of what could be compared to a filibuster was exercised by the Republicans, and their denial that that was what it was is a hollow prevarication.  So, since only the Republicans are willing to stoop to that level, that is the level of preventing a nominee from ever being considered by the full Senate, the Democrats have nothing to lose by doing away with the filibuster, which they never had the audacity to use.

The talk about the woefulness of the loss of the filibuster is based on the premise that its existence has fostered moderation in the nominating process on the theory that presidents take into consideration the erstwhile fact that the minority party could block the nomination by preventing a vote using the filibuster provision of Senate rules.  But that didn't stop George W. Bush from nominating Samuel Alito, and it didn't stop George H.W. Bush from nominating Clarence Thomas, and the Democrats did nothing about either nomination even though the filibuster was available to them.  In short, the filibuster wasn't the "big stick" that today's senators want to believe it was.  It's been a paper tiger, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor, all along.  Good riddance.  Now, every Senator has to cast his vote in the open, and that means that they all have to take the nominees they put on the big bench as part of their legacies.  That's the deterrent to making dogmatic partisan decisions.  Those decisions will be recognized...and used politically by opponents.  That's a threat that matters.

Since the filibuster couldn't be used to keep Alito and Thomas off The Court, it wasn't useful for anything at all.  Thus, my only objection to the end of the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees is that it didn't go far enough.  There should be no filibuster for legislation either.  If The Senate is an apt institution in a democratic government, the majority should always rule, and the voters, knowing that they will have to live with the decisions of the individuals as well as the party they vote for, may then exercise the kind of discretion that a democracy demands of its citizens: prudence, foresight, egalitarianism, secular humanism and probity.  So far, consideration of those qualities has been woefully lacking in too many instances to enumerate.  Without the filibuster on legislation, we as a people might do better, and thus be better.

It's time that some of the conceit of Senators be called what it is.  The Senate is not that bastion of mature collegiality that its members want the rest of us to believe it is.  It is as petty, mean spirited and self-serving as the House of Representatives is.  That conceit was spawned by the recently resurrected colonial hero, Alexander Hamilton, in papers numbered 62 and 63 of The Federalist.  In those documents, Hamilton ( it could have been James Madison as far as historians can tell, but they sound more like Hamilton to me) justified the fact that Senators would be chosen by state legislatures rather than the electorate at large because those legislators would be imbued with substance and standing in the community by dint of their maturity and accomplishments, and therefore would have better judgment than the masses.  In other words, wealthy landowners would choose senators, not the rabble.  So The Senate was always intended to be inculcated with the paternalism that wealthy men, and men in particular, know best.  As to the filibuster, they have finally demonstrated that at least in that regard, that may be for the best.

Your friend,

Mike

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