by David Sisler

Before Jackie Robinson played in the major leagues, he played with the Dodgers' Montreal farm team, the Royals. If you are old enough to have forgotten, or young enough not to have remembered, you may be surprised to learn that when the Royals were scheduled for a few exhibition games south of the Canadian border, the games were cancelled because of the presence of a Negro baseball player on the team.

Jackie was asked, "Did it bother you when Montreal's exhibition games were cancelled because of you?"

As reported in Red Smith on Baseball, Jackie laughed. "Not me. It wasn't my problem. They have their laws down there. I don't happen to think much of ‘em, but as long as they have ‘em you have to observe ‘em."

The former baseball great's comments came to mind when I read the opening paragraph of an AP news story: "Former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will pay for thousands of dollars in controversial gifts they chose to keep last year, his office said Friday, seeking to remove the whiff of impropriety that clouded his exit and to ease his wife's freshman year as a senator."

Whiff? I once stepped in something in Old Man Simmons' cow pasture which smelled like that. Just one whiff and I knew exactly what it was.

In a statement faxed to news agencies by his chief of staff, Karen Tramontano, Mr. Clinton said, "While we gave the vast majority of gifts we received to the National Archives, we reported those gifts that we were keeping. To eliminate even the slightest question, we are taking the step of paying for gifts given to us in 2000."

"The slightest question," Mr. Clinton said (but only after an almost universal cry of indignation was raised). Well, let's see. Filegate, Travelgate, White Watergate, Zippergate. How different the last eight years would have been if he had been that concerned all along! How can you gag on a gnat named "The Slightest Question" when you've been swallowing entire camels for years?

"They have their laws down there," Jackie Robinson said. "I don't happen to think much of ‘em, but as long as they have ‘em you have to observe ‘em."

It seems as if some people only obey the laws – or otherwise do what is right, whether the law demands it or not – when they are under extreme duress. Otherwise, it seems, laws are always meant for other people. Sometimes the whiff lingers on.


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