William “Hootie” Johnson, age 71, poor man, has fallen afoul of public opinion and sensibilities, for which the consequences thus far were entirely predictable: the scorn of the best newspapers; hospitalization for a coronary-artery bypass, an aortic aneurism repair, and an aortic valve replacement; now, news of restlessness on the part of the natives.
Might not any of us expect something similar after instructing the National Council of Women’s Organizations to go—please, ma’am—to the hot place? Augusta National Golf Club, site of the prestigious Masters tournament, didn’t wish to offer itself as another candidate for cultural and political intimidation.
Every institution stuffed with white males, symbols and enforcers of the Old Order is, nowadays, a candidate for intimidation. In Augusta National’s case, the offense was failure to admit women as members. The NCWO, with an estimated six million members through 160 groups, sent a letter to Hootie, in his capacity as Augusta chairman. The message: It’s time for a change. “We know that Augusta National and the sponsors of the Masters do not want to be viewed as entities that tolerate discrimination against any group, including women.”
Hootie gained national attention for replying with, shall we say, acerbity. No way, lady. Augusta National would not be “bullied, threatened, or intimidated.” This from a white man with an impressive civil-rights record that has been accorded at least glancing attention, mostly as a source of ironic commentary. July became Beat Up on Hootie Month, and it went on from there.
Let ’em in, demanded the commentators. No way, Hootie repeated, dropping all three sponsors for the 2003 Masters, lest the NCWO lean on them to lean on him. The incredulous looks spread. What was this, a golf club or Jurassic Park? By late September, the New York Times reported, with a look of satisfaction, various club members were trying to iron the thing out and spare themselves further embarrassment.
The question of Augusta National membership is one properly of supreme indifference to nonmembers. You would suppose if, in a land of liberty, Augusta National, or any other private association, chose to admit only cross-eyed Fiji Islanders, that would be the members’ prerogative. On its self-selection policies, the association would stand or fall. This quaint manner of proceeding is known as the free-market approach. It is no bad idea.
Why do private organizations no longer qualify for free-market discipline? Because, in modern America, personal validation has come to trump almost everything else. Americans exist, it would appear, to be affirmed: built up, patted on the hand, protected from low self-esteem.
We all remember the scandal of a couple of years back when the Boys Scouts declined to accept homosexuals who wished to be identified as such. The scouts, a noble and historic organization, got jerked around by the lanyard. Didn’t they understand homosexuals wanted in?! Yes, they understood. Then why couldn’t homosexuals get in? Because letting them in, to tout their gayness, would have undermined the Scouts’ moral commitments. A thing like that came before making particular nonmembers happy? Well, yes, it did; and, in due course, the federal courts, who had been dragged into this thing, agreed with the Scouts. A private, character-building organization had nonetheless been exposed to ridicule and unnecessary expense, all because it wanted to defend its essential identity.
Back to the matter of women as members of Augusta National. Should they be allowed to become such? Why not? most Americans would likely reply, provided that’s what the present membership desires. And if the members don’t desire? We will need, in that case, someone to explain why the historic right of association has been shanked into the woods; why “opportunities” and “positive feelings” have come to preempt others’ asserted right to their own preferences.
There is about it all something of the beneficent tyranny of the fifth grade—the little animals made, not to bash and scandalize and insult one another, but, instead, to play nicely together. Careful, teacher is taking names.
Has it come to this—modern life as the fifth grade reconstructed and given cultural force? It might not be the worst thing that could happen. In the fifth-grade zoo, the animals are kept at least from mauling each other. Do-gooders and hand-patters have their undoubted value in a society—like ours—where strong passions contend strongly with one another.
And so have the Hootie Johnsons their special value. Too much do-gooding, too much nicely-nicely, tends to chafe. When a Hootie Johnson plays bad boy—sticking out his tongue and his chest—the impulse is to applaud.
Hootie is an old coot, a so-and-so of genius. This is a profound reason to hope his heart gets back to ticking soundly so that he may go after his would-be intimidators with hammer and tongs. There aren’t enough of his stubborn like in this pallid, back-patting, hand-holding, esteem-building age. Long may he rave.