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Opinion

All the king’s men

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

This famous phrase from the children’s rhyme Humpty Dumpty acquired a different fame as title of the Pulitzer Prize winning 1946 novel by Robert Penn Warren (also, of its academy award winning film adaptation in 1949).

Broderick Crawford, in a role first offered to John Wayne, won the Oscar for his memorable portrayal of the “likeable reprobate” who went from everyman to the demagogue protagonist, governor of an unnamed southern US state.

This fictional governor, Willie Stark, is flamboyant, irreverent and is totally devoid of scruples. The inspiration for the character is purportedly Louisiana Governor and later United States senator Huey Long. The political figure evoked, in amalgam, could be anyone in history or in our lifetime.

Huey Long advocated an aggressive public spending program. He was also widely celebrated for his radical platform of wealth redistribution. These were highly popular themes in the early 1930s, in the aftermath of the depression. But he could not possibly comply with promises so easily made. Demagogues, by definition, ignore resource constraints. He delivered on the Senate floor his memorable “every man a king” speech, a take-off from another silver-tongued, populist presidential contender, William Jennings Bryan who said, “Behold a republic: whose every man is a king, but no one wears a crown!”

Had he not been assassinated in 1935, Long was to face Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination. FDR would broker a New Deal but to Long, the programs didn’t go far enough. But Long is remembered more by his travesties: the iron hand and executive dictatorship, complete with private army, that he practiced at the Capitol.

Hold up a mirror. Penn Warren admitted that his Gov. Stark character was “the kind of doom democracy may invite upon itself.” Are people too innocent to recognize these demons they let slip that may just come back to bite them in the end?

The current noise about prospective Senate slates are a “stark” reminder that 2022 will not just be about the leading role. It will also feature the cast of characters that jump out of their luggage as they unpack. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. All the king’s men, as one Penn Warren biographer noted, also experienced great falls like Humpty.

Doctrines to dogma. Under the Constitution, the executive power shall be vested in the President and he shall have control over all the executive departments, bureaus and offices. The doctrine of qualified political agency, the president’s men being alter egos and their decisions being presumptively his/hers unless overturned, is an adjunct of the doctrine of the unitary executive. The doctrine of executive privilege is drawn from the same mold, fictions imagined to lighten the president’s burden.

Some of them become the downfall, others get away with murder. Hardly anyone takes the option open to them should they disagree with their boss, i.e. to resign. When one does, it’’s a monumental surprise. The president as boss more than the people as boss.

Nowadays, work and study have to be done remotely. But when a population lives remotely through messianic leaders and their henchmen, their fumbles and foibles are accepted as the people’s own. Right or wrong becomes irrelevant.

Major League Baseball (MLB). Shohei Otani of Japan is leading the American League in home runs and also has one of the best records as a pitcher, boasting a 100-mph fastball. He excels on the mound, at the plate, around the bases and in fielding. This is unconventional as smart management would have hitters focus on hitting and, at most, a second role (whether running or fielding). Pitchers, the toughest position in baseball, should waste their energies on nothing else.

Otani is that once-in-generations talent who actually utilizes this skill set in almost all team games. And his Los Angeles Angels lets him. At the MLB All-Star game, Otani became the first person in history to start as both pitcher and hitter. In the US, the phenomenon is referred to as Sho-Time.

Recalibrating America’s game. If football traces its origins to England, baseball is indubitably America’s pastime as they invented it. The title could just as well be conferred on basketball for having been invented in Springfield, Massachusetts by James Naismith. But baseball came first.

At schools and colleges, you see largely US names and faces on the diamonds but MLB has become a universal sport. You have players from Japan and also from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, among others.

Where height is not might. The Philippines used to be a two-sport country because of our shared history with the US. We even had local commercial baseball leagues. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig came to play at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in their 1934 Tour where the team they led visited Japan and Shanghai before coming to Manila. In the 50s to the early 70s, baseball rivalled basketball as the national pastime. Bobby Balcena was the first Filipino to play in the US majors in the 1950s. Recently, among others, we’ve seen Benny Agbayani of the New York Mets, Clayton Rapada of the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants’ former star pitcher Tim Asis Lincicome.

Of course, no discussion of baseball is complete without mentioning the undisputed Home Run Champion of the World. That title does not belong to controversial Barry Bonds, though he is on record as having hit the most home runs in the US major leagues. Nor does it belong to Henry “Hank” Aaron, who Bonds dethroned before the latter’s steroid use was unearthed.

The true home run king is legendary Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants who hit 868 in his professional career (Japan’s major leagues typically held only 130-game seasons during his day, compared to the 162-game season of the US MLB). No steroids. Just Zen. And Kendo. And he also started his career as a pitcher.

Good luck to our Philippine Olympians as they embark on their odyssey. Thank you for your best efforts!

HUMPTY DUMPTY
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