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December 11, 2010

Obama, Jeter strike out at ingratitude

Sam Pollak
Daily Star

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President Barack Obama and the Yankees' Derek Jeter held news conferences Tuesday that reminded me _ like so many other things seem to do in my dotage _ of an old story.

This little boy was making sand castles on a beach when he was caught in the undertow and swept out to sea.

His distraught mother pleaded in a desperate prayer for the Almighty to save her son from what appeared to be certain death.

Within moments, a huge wave crashed upon the shore, depositing the child _ no worse for the experience _ gently upon the sand.

Whereupon the mother, hands on her hips, looked up to the heavens and shouted with annoyance: "He was wearing a hat!"

Ingratitude may or may not have bothered the deity, but it most definitely got Obama and Jeter uncharacteristically riled up.

Both gentlemen took justifiable offense at "if you haven't given me everything, you haven't given me anything" attitudes from people who should know better.

I grew up hating the Yankees. Not merely disliking them, you understand. This was a hatred that was pure and noble and nurtured in a Brooklyn Dodgers household.

But now I'm a Yankees fan. Why? I can answer that in two words:

Derek Jeter.

It's not that Jeter is the best player in the game, because he isn't, although he has had an illustrious career that will make him a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee five years after he retires.

It's not his Turn 2 Foundation, a charity he founded in 1996 that helps children and teenagers stay away from drugs and rewards kids for doing well in their studies.

It's because he's just such a class act, a guy who has never been associated with steroids or drugs, a guy who hustles all the time, a guy who plays the game the way it ought to be played.

Jeter, the Yankees captain, has always put the team ahead of any personal goals, and that's why it stung when his recent contract negotiations with the only club he ever wanted to play for turned petty and uncomfortable in public.

For this very private man to hear Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman tell reporters that Jeter could "shop around" for another team was clearly offensive.

Jeter, dressed immaculately in a well-tailored suit, looked like the only grown-up on the dais Tuesday when he and the Yankees made nice in announcing his new, lucrative, multiyear contract.

By his high standards, Jeter didn't have a good season in 2010, but he didn't deserve the very public "what have you done for us lately" treatment he received during the negotiations. It kind of made me think that when Jeter, 36, retires, I may have to find another team to root for.

Unlike a lot of people these days, I'm rooting for President Obama, who got more than a little bit testy at his media conference about the tax cut deal he struck with Republicans.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely hate the idea of our country having to borrow money from China and the Saudis and who knows who else to finance tax breaks for rich people.

For some reason, every Republican in the Senate signed on to blackmailing Obama, the Democrats and the country.

If you don't go along with tax breaks for the wealthy, they said, we won't vote to extend unemployment benefits for three million Americans, and every middle-class citizen will see his taxes go up.

Sure, I would love to have seen Obama stand up and fight the Republicans' madness. Perhaps after a long battle, he would have won, but it would have been a victory bought by the suffering of unemployed people who couldn't pay their rent or buy food for their children, and by a middle class struggling to make ends meet.

"The hostage was the American people," Obama said, "and I was not willing to see them get harmed."

That doesn't seem to matter to the president's left-wing political base. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC compared him _ and not favorably _ to British appeaser Neville Chamberlain. Arianna Huffington called it a "complete capitulation."

Like that mother at the beach, a lot of Democrats are being irrational and illogical. Obama did what he could.

"Politics is the art of the possible," said Prussia's Otto von Bismarck in 1867. He also said: "Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made."

The president has a right to be angry with the Republicans and peeved with the Democrats. Like Jeter, Obama has been harshly and unfairly criticized.

When it comes to doing what you think is right, however, it comes with the territory.

Just don't expect anyone to be grateful.

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.