Hottie Johnson disrupts the fifth grade

Posted: Sep 17, 2002 12:00 AM
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 bad idea. 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 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.