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Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2002/ 13 Kislev, 5763

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Wake me when Augusta controversy is over

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I'm probably the last person to comment on the wildly controversial Augusta National Golf Club's male-only membership policy, a circumstance rooted in the fact that I'm wildly not interested. I just don't care.

I don't care if the itty-bitty ball goes into the itty-bitty hole, and I don't care if Augusta's 300-member all-male club wants to keep girls out. I don't blame them. If I had an all-girls club, I wouldn't want to let boys in, either.

Besides, I was raised by a man in a household where I was the only female. I've also raised nothing but boys in a household where I am the only female. My curiosity about the Da-Da Brotherhood has been fully satisfied.

I know, I know, she yawned, it's about business and status, not sex. So says Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations (of which I am not a member) and alleged spokespersona for the sex to which I do belong. Burk is demanding that the Augusta club open its private doors to women members.

Yawns come easily when the issues are so mind-numbingly clear. Private clubs are private and members can invite whom they wish to join. End of story. The constitutional right of free assembly and all that. Another double espresso, please.

Nevertheless, I decided to rouse myself from my ennui-induced nap after seeing Burk on CNN's Crossfire a few nights ago and after reading an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Hootie Johnson, chairman of the golf club.

I happen to agree with Johnson's position, echoing Augusta club founder Bobby Jones, that "there is virtue in a place of private retreat." Would that certain activists had a private place to which they might retreat and practice the virtue of silence. I call mine "the couch by the window." Men are welcome, but that's just me.

Johnson declared in his op-ed that he'll fight the good fight, not because he necessarily wants to exclude women, but as a matter of principle. He and his fellow members can and will decide if and when to invite women as an exercise of free will, not as a result of coercion or feminist extortion.

That thinking, by the way, isn't just an issue of principle, but is also consistent with Southern manners -- you don't discuss in public that which is private -- as well as the Augusta club's heritage of discretion. Whatever club members do, they do privately and without fanfare.

Translation: When they decide to invite women, they'll do so without a press release or the need for public approbation.

But what really got me off the sofa was watching Crossfire co-host Paul Begala introduce Burk and the topic for debate. Here's what he said:

"Next we'll ask why a bastion of the old South is clinging to its tradition of blind prejudice. The debate over women in Augusta and a grown man, who calls himself Hootie [or] Bootie or Cootie or whatever his name is, is too frightened to come on Crossfire and debate a woman."

Aside from the fact that them's fightin' words in Columbia, S.C., the hometown shared by both Johnson and the hugely popular band Hootie and the Blowfish, let me inject my alert teenage son's gimlet observation: "Bet he wouldn't put it that way if he was talking about a name like Sheneneh."

I understand the inclination to exaggerate for forensic effect (I plead guilty), but Southism is no wittier than sexism or racism. Of course, we understand that bigotry is born of fear and ignorance and, well, there's just something about those red states.

For the record, Johnson, the father of four daughters, is a banker known for appointing women to high-ranking management positions. He is also recognized for his work in desegregating South Carolina colleges and universities. He's also recovering from September heart surgery, which might explain his reluctance to food-fight with Begala and Burk on national TV.

But mostly I suspect he doesn't want to dignify arguments that rely more on political grandstanding than on moral or legal merit. Besides, in Johnson's neck of the woods, it's considered unmanly as well as ungentlemanly to fight with women, children and others weaker than oneself.

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