Mr. Schaefer, boos are part of the game

John Steadman

March 15, 1991|By John Steadman

Watching William Donald Schaefer react to criticism has become the latest spectator sport . . . be it indoors or out. A media that spoiled him with praise, rarely uttering or writing an uncomplimentary word, now enjoys observing the result of its handiwork.

Schaefer is being challenged by reporters who are having a field day with the controversy he creates. A response is assured from the governor. Nothing personal, of course, but it's like going to the zoo to tease the monkeys.

There's also a correlation to athletes that is readily apparent. They, like Schaefer, can accept all the praise but don't dare be critical. And please don't ever boo. Regardless.

Most of us, in all lines of work, aren't as good as we might like to be or even imagine. Schaefer is the same. He has been an honest and competent leader of the citizens of Maryland, and doesn't have a desire to cut crooked deals or make a ton of money.

That speaks well for his character, the way he was raised and the honesty-of-purpose associated with the man. As a lifelong Schaefer watcher, it's unfortunate to see him carrying on with what approaches reckless abandon. In a certain kind of convoluted way, he seems to enjoy the commotion he's causing but is in dire need of "damage control."

The last two sports gatherings Schaefer attended found him challenging those in the audience who had the audacity to boo. It happened at the Tops In Sports banquet in January and again Tuesday at the Ed Block Courage Awards. He didn't come to either function expecting to get even a whisper of a jeer because it would have been easier to stay late at the office since governors don't usually make appearances at these types of non-political events anyhow.

In the latest incident, the booing was so distant it could barely be heard. Why? Because it was so overwhelmed by cheers. Yet instead of thanking all those who applauded, as if they were obligated, he singled out the man in the crowd who vented his displeasure.

Schaefer needs to realize no public figure is immune from the boo-birds. John Unitas and Brooks Robinson, two of Baltimore's most honored athletes, listened on occasion to the same treatment. But they silenced the critics by either throwing a touchdown pass or getting a pressure hit.

Once the hooters realize they are making their subject uncomfortable by reaching the ears of their intended target, it only encourages a continuation of same. The sound increases. So does the fury. Likewise the frequency. The best thing Schaefer could do would be to ignore the noise and get on with the governorship.

One of the most accomplished of all baseball players, Babe Ruth, was booed. So, too, was Ted Williams, who cracked back '' at his detractors and even spat in their direction. Schaefer is making a major mistake in giving credence to the actions of a few, even if his political popularity has been thrown for a loss all over the state.

The self-inflicted problems were caused by Schaefer himself. He is not an immortal. Within him is the most natural of human desires. He wants to be liked, and, yes, even revered, which isn't realistic, or even humanly possible, if you happen to be the governor.

What he's in the process of doing is hurting a proud political record, one studded with jewels of achievement. Uncomplimentary remarks, even boos from the crowd, are part of the territory. He's late discovering this fundamental fact of the political game, which is understandable because of the almost constant adulation he received.

The way the newspapers covered his career led to the belief he was almost omnipotent. It was always positive. Some were intimidated by his reputation. They bowed and scraped. The assistants around him when he was mayor of Baltimore were called the "Kool Aid Kids" because it was said if the leader of the cult said to lace their drinks with poison they would obey the command.

That's an overstatement but his personality is that strong. When compared with others in government, Schaefer has had a joy ride, even if he won't agree, and has accomplished much. The problems, as with most of us, are of his own making and he continues to compound them.

Asking for trouble means you'll find it. One of his oldest friends needs to tell him.

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