— Elizabeth Spiro Clark
November 21, 2011

Much of the undertone of commentary on Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s ouster was to “balance” the good he had done with his failure to protect young boys from his deputy Jerry Sandusky’s alleged longstanding sexual predation record. There is a “higher good” to consider in this case, it was said. The higher good was defined as all the contributions his winning football team, the Nittany Lions, and his personal financial endowments contributed to Penn State’s bottom line and reputation.

“Joe is a devout Catholic. He’s a beautiful person. He’s a wonderful coach,” a fellow coach Vince McAneney was quoted as saying (see Joe Nocera oped, NYT, 11/11). McAneney seemed to be making the statement that “devout” Catholics are not immoral. It is presumptuous, no doubt, to claim to have the measure of an individual morally and spiritually. However, it is not presumptuous to make a judgment on what the “higher good” in this case is. The higher good was protecting those boys. Joe Paterno would have almost certainly gotten no public credit for following this higher good. There would have been no statue built of Joe Paterno for protecting those kids. He might even have been excoriated for betraying his team and his university.

Herman Cain represents money and power too. On the same day the Philadelphia Inquirer was drenched in the Penn State scandal a column on Herman Cain’s presidential campaign was a riff on the odd fact that Cain seemed to be running for money not office. His TV ads in the Florida straw poll didn’t ask for campaign organizing help or outline policy positions but instead plugged sales of his book: “Consider giving a loved one a copy of “This is Herman Cain”, he tells his audience.

For Cain public service just doesn’t fit into his ideas of what has value: money and power – masculine power. You don’t question powerful men for hitting on women, especially if the women are needy, want a job, for instance. Cain trashed his one named sexual harassment accuser because she had filed for bankruptcy. His women accusers aren’t rich and famous. They are disposable, targets of contempt. They are women that dare to get in the way of powerful men.

The abused boys at Penn State – a much worse corruption of power – were treated as if they were disposable too. As one abused boy was alleged to have said of Sandusky “you just can’t tell him no”. He was strong. He did what he wanted.

Another story of “disposable” people is the shocking story of how the richest and most powerful man of them all – Apple’s Steve Jobs – tolerated terrible conditions in the factories of his subsidiary, Foxcom, in China. According to a report in the Guardian this past spring workers were driven to suicide, nets placed under dormitory windows to prevent “jumpers”. Workers were asked to sign a statement promising not to kill themselves and pledging to “treasure their lives”. But I digress.

There is the strong whiff of the wolf pack here, marauding for food and sex, and, in the case of humans, money. The culture of the locker room is the culture of physical power and in the case of the winning team, money. The passionate identity and investment of Americans in their sports teams can truly be called tribal.

This is the culture of the Republican presidential candidates who blame the lower 99% for not having the power to get enough stuff for themselves. Remember that Bush 43 owned a baseball team and ran his campaigns and his foreign policy like sports competitions. When Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell says his only goal is beating Obama he might as well be a Penn State rioter. The only thing to value is crushing the other side. It was nauseating but not surprising to hear Republican audiences applauding at Gov Perry’s record number of executions or pollsters finding 67% percent of Republicans support torture. It doesn’t matter if you are successful (Bush 43 was not) as long as you swear fealty to the culture of aggression. It’s manly to eat pizza and French fries and not “submit” like a weak woman to federal government regulations on school lunches. Strength is rejecting a tomato sauce that can be called a vegetable serving.