Sobran Column -- The Rules of the Game
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The Rules of the Game

January 13, 2000

The John Rocker case continues to reverberate. Rocker is of course the Atlanta Braves pitcher who, late in the twentieth century, caused an uproar by describing New York City unflatteringly. The ethnic-touchiness lobbies took it very hard and demanded his head on a pike.

Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig, was unable to deliver Rocker’s head physically, but he did decree that said head be examined, sentencing Rocker to the humiliation of psychological testing, after which, he hinted, he might take further punitive measures.

[Breaker quote: How 
the new liberalism deals with dissidence] Selig took a leaf from Soviet psychiatry by stigmatizing Rocker’s views as symptoms of mental illness. Rocker hadn’t broken any known rule of baseball, let alone any law. He apologized for any offense he had given, and later explained that he was avenging himself (a little excessively, he admitted) for the rude treatment he has received from New York’s fans, who aren’t especially renowned for gallant sportsmanship: in addition to the normal verbal abuse, Rocker said, they have spat and poured beer on him, and in one instance hit him with a thrown battery.

But it’s already treated as established fact that Rocker’s remarks were “racist” and “bigoted.” What did he actually say?

Well, he grumbled about “foreigners,” noting that you can walk a whole block in New York without hearing English spoken. Just what is racially invidious about that?

His most inflammatory sentence was this one: “Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [in] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”

“Racist”? The people he describes could all be white. The ones with purple hair could hardly be otherwise. If there is anything “racist,” it’s the assumption that any mention of crime and illegitimacy must refer to racial minorities — who are entitled to take offense at any acknowledgment of certain behavior patterns that are both obvious and statistically verifiable. And if you don’t practice the prescribed double-think, you need your head examined.

A Lebanese-American friend of mine who grew up in New York took exception only to Rocker’s comparison of New York to Beirut. That aside, he thought it was a perfectly accurate description of the New York he knows. It certainly matches the New York you read about every day in the same New York tabloids that blasted Rocker as a bigot.

One thinks of the wry remark of Shakespeare’s earthy soldier Enobarbus, when Mark Antony rebukes him for his bluntness: “That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.”

The old liberalism didn’t demand conformity of thought and feeling. It demanded only that the law treat everyone alike, regardless of race, creed, and color. It honored freedom of thought and opinion, however eccentric, because individual freedom was the whole point of racial equality itself.

The newer liberalism wants to reduce society to a collectivist horde in which even personal thoughts and feelings are subject to state supervision and correction. It permits no private reservations about its agenda.

There are no clear rules; it’s up to the individual to avoid even incurring suspicion. Loose accusations of bigotry are the norm, because being accused is in itself evidence of guilt. Naturally, there are no penalties for making false charges, because, as in the Soviet Union, even false charges help maintain the general discipline of fear.

Under the new liberalism, the entire population must be kept in a state of constant intimidation, unsure of what the individual is permitted to do and having to guess what the rules mean and how they will be enforced. This marks a deep change from the days when Americans assumed they were free to do anything the law didn’t explicitly forbid.

Of course this principle isn’t applied consistently. Major League Baseball has taken no disciplinary action against the owner of Rocker’s team, Ted Turner, for his insulting jokes about Catholics and Christianity last year. Nor did liberals cry out against Turner’s “bigotry”; in fact, his liberal audience laughed.

Joseph Sobran

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