Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Man of the Year

Frank Rich calls Tiger the Man of the Year – “the farcical reduction ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams!”
by Charlie Leck

It’s a good call to name Tiger Woods the Man of the Year, as Frank Rich has done in his NY Times column. Too bad it’s so negative. On a year when Barack Obama becomes the first President of color and wins the Nobel Peace Prize – when Bernie Madoff is sentenced to finish his life in prison for stealing billions – went countless financial wizards were unmasked as nothing more than frauds – when we realize we are mired so deeply in wars that were sold to us by Bernie Madoff-like politicians – we crown Tiger Woods as the most prominent example of “the great con.”

“If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).”

“…What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.”
As a radio personality out here on the plains often says: “Mr. Rich is either on to something or he’s on something!”

But, I’ll go a long with the call. Tiger Woods is the man of the year. He certainly crushed a part of my life and left me dizzied with disappointment. Five or six times a year I plan long, long camp-outs by the TV to watch 6, 8 or 10 hours of the major golf competitions – the Masters, the U.S. Open Championship, The Open (from Britain), the PGA Championship, the Players Championship, and an international team championship. It was a commonly known fact around here that the only thing I ever wanted on Father’s Day, from all of my children, was to be left on my own, in privacy, with a batch of tostados and guacamole dip, so I could watch the final day of the U.S. Open Golf Championship (played every Father's Day).

Now I have no interest. Perhaps something will stir inside me when Spring arrives, but, for now, I have only Tiger to thank for messing up my wonderful rituals. Now, when a champion is crowned in any of those events, the natural doubts will always hang in the air. Did the best player really win? And, if it’s Tiger who wins, the question will be: Who cares?

The height and shear nerve of Tiger’s con is too enormous to forgive easily. He might have not only destroyed the loyalty of those of us who loved to watch him do his work on a golf course, but he may have destroyed the comfortable livelihoods of a large group of successful and hopeful golf professionals.

If my attitude is multiplied by several million other enthusiasts around the nation, what does it do to the Professional Golfers Association of America? What does it do to the United States Golf Association? What impact does it have on the good fellow up the street who owns the nice, low green-fee, public golf course?

What damage does it do to the dozens of golf equipment manufacturing companies? What harm to the dozens and dozens of charities that benefited from contributions from so many golf tournaments all around the world.

Immediately, the fall-out from Tiger’s personal failings will be enormous. Perhaps, over time, the situation will heal. I, however, don’t have all that much time. This year I’ll get outside during “Masters Week” and enjoy the budding arrival of Spring in Minnesota. And, I guess I’ll ask the children to take me to brunch on Father’s Day this year.

Alas! As Frank Rich writes, carrying the Tiger Wood’s syndrome to greater heights…

“The most lethal example, of course, were the two illusions marketed to us on the way to Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and some link to Al Qaeda. That history has since been rewritten by Bush alumni, Democratic politicians who supported the Iraq invasion and some of the news media that purveyed the White House fictions (especially the television press, which rarely owned up to its failure as print journalists have). It was exclusively “bad intelligence,” we’re now told, that pushed us into the fiasco. But contradictions to that “bad intelligence” were in plain sight during the run-up to the war — even sometimes in the press. Yet we wanted to suspend disbelief. Much of the country, regardless of party, didn’t want to question its leaders, no matter how obviously they were hyping any misleading shred of intelligence that could fit their predetermined march to war. It’s the same impulse that kept many from questioning how Mark McGwire’s and Barry Bonds’s outlandishly cartoonish physiques could possibly be steroid-free.”

“But these scam artists are pikers next to the financial hucksters. I’m not just talking about Bernie Madoff and Enron’s Ken Lay, but about those titans who legally created and sold the securities that gamed and then wrecked the system. You’d think after Enron’s collapse that financial leaders and government overseers would question the contents of “exotic” investments that could not be explained in plain English. But only a few years after Enron’s very public and extensively dissected crimes, the same bankers, federal regulatory agencies and securities-rating companies were giving toxic “assets” a pass. We were only too eager to go along for the lucrative ride until it crashed like Tiger’s Escalade.”
Again, read the Frank Rich column from today’s NY Times.

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