Leading obituary in today’s New York Times: Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame Pitcher Turned Cantankerous Senator, Dies at 85. In the online version, the Times changed “Turned Cantankerous” to “and Blunt-Spoken.” I like the print title better.
Should anyone from the general public be mourning Bunning’s passing?
Not in my opinion. Pissing on anyone’s grave is not an especially endearing act, so I’ll catch a few darts for this one, but I believe there should be a special place in hell for anyone lucky enough to make a fortune playing a sport who sees fit to deny poor people safety net benefits.
After a 17-year baseball career, Bunning became a Kentucky legislator, then House representative and, finally, between 1999 and 2011, one of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators. As a Senator, at the depths of the great recession in 2010, Bunning registered procedural objections to the legislation extending unemployment benefits and, according to the Times “single-handedly delayed its passage.” That’s how I remember it as well.
In other words, Bunning, a guy who never wanted for anything in his adult life for no reason other than that he was born with the genetic capacity to throw a baseball exceptionally fast and with great precision, saw fit to inflict misery on those who lost their livelihoods when the economy crashed. That, to me, is the scummiest of political scum.
Bunning, however, is by no means in a class by himself. It is remarkably commonplace for absurdly wealthy pro athletes, especially white ones, to take on a similar world view. Curt Shilling, whose nickname was rumored to be “Dinner for One” when he pitched for the Diamondbacks, was right up there with Bunning. Phil Mickelson was roundly and deservedly maligned when he thought it appropriate to whine about California’s top income tax rate. Mickelson at least had the decency to apologize for his remarks.
Here’s how extreme it gets: I remember reading a Golf Digest article in 2004 about how 64 of 64 pro golfers polled by GD favored Bush in the 2004 election. Imagine that? The only demographic to be 100% for anything turns out to be multimillionaires who made their fortunes hitting a ball with a club. And what do they unanimously favor? Tax cuts for the wealthy funded by the shredding of the safety net. Quite a few from this group were on the Trump train, and still are.
Maybe it’s something about baseball pitchers and male pro golfers. Hmmm, the two positions in sports most dominated by whites? What a coincidence!
I have nothing against pro athletes. Even those with the most incredible natural talent had to work hard to reach the level of excellence demanded in pro sports. But the fact remains they all were insanely lucky, genetically, to be born with the capacity to reach that level of skill. Which allowed them to reap insanely large financial rewards for throwing a baseball or swinging a driver. For them to be so disdainful of less fortunate Americans that they would deny the most minimal level of assistance is so lacking in empathy it qualifies as psychopathic. Remarkably, however, they are elected to public office, rather than ostracized by society.
So, sorry, I just can’t care if Jim Bunning rests peacefully.