Monday night I was watching Republibabes Laura Ingraham and South Carolina Guv. Nikki Haley defend the Augusta National Golf Club’s “no women” rule on the O’Reilly Factor. I kind of got the feeling that they didn’t really approve of the famous club’s exclusionary policies, but because the loathsome press was making a big deal out of it they had to defend their male superiors. Laura keep going on about “the rights of a private organization to choose its own members.” It reminded me that I was once a privileged patron of such an establishment.
It was back in 1975. I was dating a woman named Linda, and one day she called and offered to take me to lunch, an invitation I rarely refuse. She picked me up and we headed into East Point, an older suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. It’s easy to get lost in East Point, there are endless tree-lined avenues of red brick homes that all look pretty much the same. Linda was a local, but even she was having problems finding our destination.
Finally, we drove into a gravel parking lot in front of one of the anonymous houses. The only thing that distinguished it from the others was a white picket fence with an arbor. Above the arbor was a hand lettered sign that said “PRIVITE CLUB.”
We entered the house and to my surprise, there was a full-on restaurant inside, with a counter, booths and tables. A smiling beehived waitress led us to one of the tables and took our order. Perplexed, I asked Linda what a restaurant was doing out here in this residential backwater?
“They used to have a restaurant downtown, but when businesses were forced to comply with the Civil Rights Act, they closed up shop and moved everything out here. It became a private club.”
“And what do you have to do to become a member?” I asked.
The boys at Augusta used to have such a policy, and they could even spell it right. They did discriminate against whites, though. You could only be a caddy if you were black. In 1990, bowing to public pressure, they finally rescinded the whites-only rule for membership and even allowed women to join the ranks of the caddies, but stubbornly held on to the penis-only requirement for members.
And even so, there are no applications there. You can join only if invited, and the invitation is only extended to the rich and powerful. The rolls at Augusta are a who’s who of the corporate elite. Names like Coors, Buffet, Gates, Welch and others more anonymous but still well-connected grace the gated greens. When advertisers were reluctant to have their products connected to the annual Masters Tournament, Augusta shrugged and ponied up the money themselves. Money talks.
Hardcore libertarians will argue that such clubs are perfectly legal, and point to the boy and girl scouts, ladies clubs and other gender-specific organizations that are found from coast to coast. This is true, but there’s something about the attitude of Augusta that is particularly offensive. It’s an attitude we see on the smug faces of the Wall Street financial wizards who gamed us into insolvency, of the energy traders who laughed at Californians as they cut off the power in 2001, and the politicians of both parties who crafted the policies that allowed it to happen.
I’ve been one of the voices calling for less regulation for struggling businesses during these trying times, but there does come a point where business needs to be constrained when it becomes so powerful that it can buy and sell the government we rely on to keep us safe and provide a level playing field. The progressive movement of the early 20th century didn’t happen because the workers and consumers were bored. It was because of attitudes like those in Augusta who see themselves as a privileged class that doesn’t have to answer to anyone.