This past week, the President again made the mistake of speaking without consulting his handlers - this time on the topic of Michael Vick. In this particular case, his comments came in a call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who subsequently shared Obama's comments on Vick and the Eagles with the news media. According to the WaPo:
The president has not spoken publicly about the call, though aides acknowledged that it took place. But Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports that during their conversation Obama was passionate about Vick's comeback.
"He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,' " said Lurie, who did not indicate when the call occurred. "He said, 'It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.' And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''
Predictably (although apparently not by Obama), reaction to this has been swift and pretty negative, especially by organizations such as PETA.
Until today, I haven't spent any time at all paying attention to this whole episode with Vick, Obama, etc. because I disliked Vick even before it became known that he was a dog killer. But I found this particular reaction from Tucker Carlson to be more than a wee bit ridiculous:
"I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances," Carlson said. "But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that. He wasn't, but the idea that the President of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs? Kind of beyond the pale."
Tucker, come on. "Executed"? Jeez, I like puppies and I even have one. But I would hardly advocate the death penalty for killing them. (Perhaps Tucker is simply channeling Lethal Weapon 3's Martin Riggs: "We can't shoot a dog. People? Okay, but not dogs.")
A more appropriate response is this evaluation by Richard Cohen. He writes:
The sanctimony regarding this dog killer is sickening. He was wantonly cruel, not only pitting dogs against one another in fights, but drowning poor performers. Didn't he know this was cruel? Didn't he know wounded dogs were in pain? Is he so stupid he didn't notice the blood, the torn skin, the...? Oh, forget it! The man's an animal himself.
Now Vick has punched all the tickets on the road to rehabilitation. He is contrite. He loves pooches. He might even get a dog himself. How much of this is genuine and how much is synthetic I leave to you. But I'll tell you this. Vick got a second chance not because he deserves it but because he can play football. This is the lesson we can all take from this sorry episode. It's one thing to be sorry. It's much better to hit your man in the end zone.
Hear, hear. Obama's attempt to place some sort of charitable motivation upon Vick's signing by the Eagles is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.
Mo'Kelly, at the Huffington Post, notes the key point as well:
Professional sports is a meritocracy, not a charitable organization about the business of garnering presidential voicemails. If Michael Vick were to unfortunately suffer a career-ending injury in his next game; he would be cut, his career disappear and his non-guaranteed contract money right along with it.
President Obama's phone call (and subsequent spotlight) would have been better served highlighting individuals and entities truly about the business of helping everyday African-American men reintegrate themselves into society after prison; not offering more inappropriate idolatry of athletes.
Michael Vick is an exceptionally talented football player who presently has value to the Philadelphia Eagles; no more, no less. The Philadelphia Eagles franchise is about the business of winning football games and maximizing revenue. The franchise took Vick on a flyer and it panned out.
Bully for them.
Let's not rewrite history and attribute altruistic motives where they do not belong or exist.
Praise Michael Vick for his football prowess. Applaud the Philadelphia Eagles for the shrewd construction of its present team. But never should any president be heaping praises of morality on an organization for simply attempting to sell more tickets, win more games and ultimately make more money. Eventually, President Obama will concern himself with the issues most important to African-Americans, as in the multitude. It just won't be today as this clearly is not one of them.
To be sure, the Vick situation is little more than a capitalistic move on the part of the Eagles, with which I have little issue. However, I see a slightly different theme here, concerning our willingness to look beyond the moral/behavioral issues of athletes and entertainers. The amount of latitude in behavior that community receives from the public is repulsive. This episode with Vick is yet another road sign along the path of moral decay in this country - that a guy like Vick can pull the stunts that he did and not only be permitted to play again in the NFL, but even worse: to again receive fan adulation, despite being one of the biggest scumbags to ever hit the field (and I say "one of" because he really can't hold a candle to St. Louis's own Leonard Little, who killed a woman as a result of his drunk driving, yet was re-welcomed to the field with open arms by the misguided St. Louis football fans). Furthermore, I believe that the cultural attitude that has permitted Vick to be so quickly forgiven and "redeemed" is more than a little bit connected to the current downhill rush to libertarianism within the GOP. We as a society are in the process of abandoning moral positions for "bigger and better things", namely getting as many votes as possible and worrying more about our wallets than our values.
Now, as Tucker Carlson similarly stated, I, too, am a Christian and believe in forgiveness and redemption. And Vick did his time in jail and claims to be rehabilitated. Fine. But let's not forget how we got here in the first place and why he's back in uniform: because we increasingly place more value on scoring points/runs/goals - and perhaps on winning elections - than we do on the character of those who are directly involved and on the values that should drive behavior in America. In the words of one of my esteemed Redstate colleagues: wouldn't it be nice if there was as much rage over the millions of aborted babies in this country as there has been over the dogs that Vick killed?