Chris Hayes wrote a book last year based upon a single question: If we have such elite and talented people earning so much money and exercising so much power, why are things so screwed up?

He spent the rest of his book attempting to explain why our most richly rewarded people keep letting us down.

Last week Lance Armstrong fully joined the long list of sports, business and political leaders who have sorely disappointed the nation.

Armstrong was an American elite who clawed his way out of Texas to the pinnacle of his sport, then successfully crossed the Rubicon into the celebrity world of personal jets and $10 million estates.

Hayes argues in his book that elites in sports, business or other competitive fields come to share a similar outlook.

They are so richly rewarded and lavishly praised that they believe they are above the rules governing the behavior of other mortals. Winning at any cost is their singular goal.

They always believe the phrase “everyone is cheating” justifies their cheating and is necessary to “level the playing field.”

When elites break the rules they are not usually punished like bank robbers and drug dealers. They most often remain wealthy and sometimes return to their former positions and status. 

Elite cheaters are also good at attracting other cheaters who willingly help cover their tracks.

Elite cheaters are also enabled by a fawning media that loves a winner and a winner’s story.

For those who say doping levels the playing field, former cyclist (and less successful doper) Tyler Hamilton argues the opposite in his book “The Secret Race.”

The wealthiest cheaters can hire the best doctors and chemists. Armstrong was able to use his private jet to transport drugs and hire his gardener to deliver them posing as a motorcyclist and fan.

Doping also tends not to reward the best cyclist, but the one with the most flexible value system and greatest tolerance for risk.

What’s more, poorer teams and cyclists simply cannot assemble the large cast of characters necessary to carry off the corporate sort of cheating that characterized the Armstrong machine.

Armstrong is a cool and calculating cheater, and he certainly had his motives for granting a softball interview to Oprah.

He has now entered the elaborate reinvention process that superstars follow to win their way back into the money and glory. 

They are rarely so ashamed of their behavior that they slink into obscurity like ordinary people who feel guilt, remorse and embarrassment.

Before we feel sympathy, we should remember that Armstrong lied right up until there was no alternative but to tell the truth.

The master liar again and again looked into the TV cameras and insisted he never doped was finally cornered and out of escape routes.

It took years of effort to do it, and Armstrong continually trashed and threatened those bold enough to challenge him, but the weight of the evidence was finally overwhelming, even for a world-class denier.

His story is a bitter disappointment for the millions of people who once respected the man.

It also leaves us a bit more jaded about the elites we look to for inspiration and leadership.

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