Dec. 1, Gila Bend, Ariz. – Driving out of Yuma today on death’s own highway, aka Interstate 8 east toward Phoenix, we chanced to see the above billboard.
First I was incensed by the billboard’s manipulative sleight-of-hand. Probably I should’ve laughed.
The sheer audacity of reconstituting George Herman Ruth as the poster boy for “drive?”
Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Satiety?
Babe Ruth overcame a rotten childhood and matriculated from St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys to the big leagues because of his peerless drive? Babe Ruth, whose taste for whiskey, women and food knew no earthly bounds, rode his legendary work ethic to fame and fortune?
The implicit message here: We don’t need no stinking social programs to help poor children. That might ruin their drive. How will they ever learn to fish if we give them fish? How will they ever make it to the major leagues if we kill their drive with government assistance? Spare the rod, spoil the child’s drive.
Babe Ruth made it to the big leagues for one reason: He was a freak of a nature. He was a once-in-a-blue-moon talent who left reform school in 1913 and two years later won 18 games for the Boston Red Sox. In less than a decade he metamorphosed from the best left-handed pitcher in baseball to the promethian slugger who revolutionized baseball to the boy-in-a-man’s-body lout who nearly killed himself with an excess of eating, drinking and whoring.
He made the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in spite of, not because of, his drive.
This is your poster boy for drive? The gall, I thought.
Then we stopped at Gila Bend and I took a moment to research the people behind the billboard. They call themselves The Foundation for a Better Life.
I looked at other spots and billboards, and really, they’re all fine. Even nice. Jackie Robinson? Mr. Rogers? Who can quibble. Not even me.
The FAQ section of the website informed me:
The Foundation for a Better Life is not affiliated with any religious or political viewpoint, either formally or informally. We do not endorse any particular political party or religion.
Obviously I overreacted. Why am I such a cynical bastard, anyway? The whole thing now seemed at worst innocuous, maybe even a tad inspirational.
Then I gazed a little deeper in The Foundation for a Better Life. It was created in 2000 behind a $700 million endowment from Philip Anschutz. Philip Anschutz, who with a net worth of $7.6 billion can afford to indulge in tasteful platitudes that no doubt lower his annual tax penalty. Philip Anschutz, the world’s 44th richest man.
Philip Anschutz, who owns stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings and the Staples Center, just to name a few. Phlip Anschutz, who owns the controlling stake in the Union Pacific Railroad. We’ve seen your trains today, Philip.
Philip Anschutz owns Clarity Media Group, a far-flung chain of right-wing propaganda outlets like The Washington Examiner, which this fall produced a hard-hitting, 10-part investigative report bearing the inflammatory headline “The Obama You Don’t Know.”
Philip Anschutz has funneled money to just about every narrow-minded cause under the sun: anti-gay activism, anti-environmental legislation and Seattle’s Discovery Institute, the august think tank that brought you “Intelligent Design.”
So I get it. The Foundation for a Better Life, narrowly speaking, has no axe to grind. It just wants to spread solid, noncontroversial, salt-of-the-earth behavioral values from mouth to mouth. The Foundation for a Better Life no doubt thinks we all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Whatever. If Philip Anschutz wants to launder his conscience and his money with $700 billion worth of pretty billboards and positive platitudes, it’s fine by me.
But, Pass It On?
I think I’ll pass.