Welcome to the latest round in the grudge match between the ruler of Augusta National Boys Club and the boss of the National Council to Get a Woman Into a Golf Club in Georgia. Each is scoring points, but talking past the other, solving nothing. Try not to laugh, comic and bizarre though this undignified scene seems, because what we're watching is sad.
We live in a period when sound bytes, talking points, attack ads and demonizing your foe have become staples of what used to be called our national discourse. It's a contagious disease. Even smart decent people often lower their debate on serious issues to this inflammatory buzz-word level. But they do so at a price, both personally and in the damage they do to their cause. That's the scene we're watching now with Hootie Johnson and Martha Burk.
This week, Johnson unleashed a media blitz against Burk, granting several interviews and writing an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. He coordinated the attack, holding all interviews for release on the same day. Hootie even claimed that a poll showed that more than 70 percent of both men and women think he's right and Burk's all wet about Augusta adding a woman member.
"The notion that Augusta National is an enclave of sexist good old boys is ludicrous," wrote Johnson in his piece titled, "Why I'm Teed Off". Johnson then reaffirmed "our resolve not to be told what to do by an individual who knows nothing about us. ... Some things are worth defending ... taking a stand. ... I know this is one of them."
Sad to say, these two people, with accomplishments as long as your arm, are falling deeper and deeper into our national disease of nasty hyperbolic debate where no one concedes that a foe can have a valid point or a decent motive.
We live in a "Crossfire" world where the first shot is often directed amid ship rather than across the bow. And we wonder why we get focused on our passions, rather than centered on solutions.
The problem, as almost everyone has figured out, except them, is that both Johnson and Burk have defensible positions. Both are within their rights to act in the manner they've chosen.
Augusta National has a constitutional right to be an all-men's club, just as Smith College can matriculate only women and the Girl Scouts and Junior League can be all-female. Nobody denies it. The law is clear. Private clubs are an American right.
On the other hand, Burk and her supporters have every right to raise cane about it. They don't claim to have a legal case. They're appealing to the public on moral grounds. That's in the Constitution, too. They can lobby corporations to boycott the Masters. They can cajole individual Augusta members to start an insurrection. They can plead their case in the media and attempt to be a complete pain.
After all, Augusta National may be a private club, but the Masters is an enormously public and symbolic event that was identified with discrimination against African Americans for many years.
My feelings on this topic haven't changed. When you have the law on your side, but history against you, who's going to win? The National may be a private club, but, without the Masters, it would be as unnoticed as Pine Valley. By embracing the public on its grounds and on TV, it has opened itself to public opinion and public pressure. That's not a legal issue. It's just the way the world works. When the force of historic trend -- like equality for women -- leans against you, even gently, it's wiser to accommodate it gracefully.
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