Hottie Johnson disrupts the fifth grade
9/17/2002 12:00:00 AM - Bill Murchison
Poor Hootie! Heart procedures for him this past week: a coronary
artery bypass, an aortic aneurism repair and an aortic valve replacement.
Might not any of us expect something similar after a couple of months' worth
of pounding in the press, as has been the lot of Hootie Johnson, age 71,
since he told the National Council of Women's Organizations to go --please,
ma'am -- to the hot place?
Why so? Because Augusta National Golf Club (in Augusta, Ga.),
site of the 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 6 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 next year's Masters, lest the NCWO lean on
them to lean on him. The incredulous looks spread. What was this anyway, a
golf club or Jurassic Park?
The question of Augusta National membership is one properly of
supreme indifference to non-members. 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
How come private organizations (e.g., Augusta National, the
Citadel) 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.
Women as members of Augusta National? One can't think of a
single reason why not -- if that's what the present membership desires. And
if it doesn'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 pre-empt 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 each other, but instead to play nicely together. Careful, the teacher
is taking names.
Has it come to this -- modern life as the fifth grade
reconstructed and given cultural force of previously unknown strength? 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 each other.
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
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.