Culture

Obama at play, &c.

President Obama golfs in Kailua, Hawaii, in 2014. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
A country club, a Supreme Court nomination, an (iconic) actress, and more

I am somewhat amazed to see Woodmont Country Club in the news — the national news, and possibly international news. This is a club outside Washington, D.C. I know it rather well. Barack Obama has been offered a membership there.

He likes his golf, Obama does. That’s one of the things I like about him. Early in his first term, I wrote a piece called “Hail to the Golfer-in-Chief.” (Ahem: It appears in this new collection, Digging In.) Obama was taking a lot of grief for his golf. He was taking it from Left and Right.

The Left didn’t like it because golf, in their view, was a Republican thing, or a white thing. Why should this cool black Democratic president be playing this Ozzie-and-Harriet game?

The Right didn’t like it because, they said, it was taking up too much of Obama’s time. He was neglecting his duties. (That was fine with me, I tell you.)

So, I wrote an essay defending both golf and Obama’s particular habit.

When it was bruited about that he was looking to join Woodmont, there was grumbling at the club. Woodmont is mainly a Jewish club, and some members objected to Obama’s treatment of Israel. They were especially hot about Obama’s treatment of Israel at the U.N. Obama left that country vulnerable, they thought.

Other members were high on Obama, and appalled at the grumbling. One member, a Democratic activist, went so far as to resign, splashily. He wrote a letter saying,

I can no longer belong to a community:

Where Intolerance is accepted,

Where History is forgotten,

Where Freedom of Speech is denied,

And where the nation’s first black president is disrespected.

He signed his letter, “Stay Woke.” “Woke,” in the current parlance, means “awake to racial injustice.”

Woodmont has offered Obama — the missus, too — a “special membership,” meaning they would not have to pay an initiation fee. They would have to pay merely dues and assessments.

I would like to say something about this “first black president” business. The letter-writer, the resigner, said that Woodmont was a place where “the nation’s first black president is disrespected.”

It could be that the anti-Obama members regard Obama as a president, and, moreover, a man: a man with certain views, a man with a record. It could be that they think his stance on Israel is lousy and disqualifying, quite apart from skin color.

And I think Obama would appreciate this: being considered a president, and a man, rather than a racial totem or symbol.

‐I have always had an advantage in my journalism, and in life, I think: and that is that I am absolutely un-intimidatable — un-cowable — on the subject of race. A big reason, I think, is that I grew up around black people. They were part and parcel of life. They were not exotic. They were — you know, people.

Good and bad. Smart and dumb. Talented and untalented. Good-looking and ugly. Honest and dishonest. Tall and short.

You know, like people. People.

For many white people, black people are not quite people: They are symbols, or victims, or saints — automatic racial saints. They are the Other. Clarence Thomas once complained that white people, too many of them, treat black people like dogs and cats.

If I were black, it would drive me absolutely nuts. It does anyway.

Last week, I was thinking about two of my colleagues, who are two of my favorite writers: Kevin Williamson and David French. One advantage they have is that they are absolutely un-intimidatable on the subject of poverty. They cannot be cowed.

One trick of the populist-nationalist Right is to say, “Elitist! You have no idea how the other half lives. You have no idea about the poor and struggling. You live in a bubble. You go to your cocktail parties. Elitist!”

Kevin is from Lubbock; David is from Georgetown — not the neighborhood in Washington, D.C., but the town in Kentucky. (My ancestors, some of them, lived in Georgetown, D.C. It was a slum then. They couldn’t wait to move out, and did.)

If you try that “Elitist!” stuff on them, they will laugh in your face, or worse.

We cannot go through life without generalizing. We can’t think, talk, or write without generalizing, nor should we. But happy is he who regards people, basically, as individuals.

‐Received a note from a Democratic friend of mine — a superb lawyer in D.C. She addressed the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court: “If politics worked right, Democrats wouldn’t fight this one (and Obama’s nominee should have gotten a hearing and a vote). Poisonous place, federal Washington.”

I sort of feel for the Democrats on this one. They want revenge for the inaction on Merrick Garland. At the same time, Neil Gorsuch is damn near unimpeachable. What glove can you lay on him?

Of course, you could have said that about Bork, and many did …

‐Care for a little music? Here is my “New York Chronicle,” published in the just-issued New Criterion. I take up Robert Muczynski, Christian Gerhaher, William Bolcom, Wynton Marsalis, Vittorio Grigolo, and more.

‐A little language? To the passengers sitting in exit rows, a flight attendant — née stewardess — gives a little speech. She ends with, “Are you able and willing to assist in the event of an emergency?” She then says, to each passenger, “I need a verbal yes.”

It’s interesting, this word “verbal.” It used to mean related to speech — written, oral, whatever. Now it seems to mean only oral. The flight attendant means, “You can’t nod your head or something. You have to say the word ‘yes.’” Why doesn’t she say “I need an oral yes”? Probably because the word “oral” has a vulgar connotation.

I’m reminded of the word “diction.” It used to mean — and surely still means, formally — word choice. Somewhere along the line, it got equated to “elocution” or “enunciation.” In olden days, young ladies walked around with books on their heads, practicing their e-nun-ci-a-tion …

‐On a plane the other day, I heard the chief flight attendant — a senior woman — say, “The girls are getting ready to come through with a water walk.”

Whoa. “Girls.” Age and sex have their privileges …

‐Shall we have a correction? A correction of me? In a column the other week, I called Key West the southernmost point of the United States. Several readers wrote to say, “Don’t forget Hawaii! Don’t forget Ka Lae!”

I had. (Hawaii and Alaska — always screwin’ us up …)

‐Last week, I did a podcast with David French. For some reason, I mentioned Some Kind of Wonderful, the movie from 1987. A listener wrote to say, “Out of all the important topics you guys discussed, I was most impressed by your knowing the movie Some Kind of Wonderful!”

In a blogpost, I said, “Oh, please: Every male my age has thought about Lea Thompson, Mary Stuart Masterson, or both for lo these 30 years. Trust me.”

Then I did a tweet, about this blogpost — and I mentioned Lea Thompson, using her Twitter handle. (Mary Stuart Masterson doesn’t have one, apparently.)

After a few minutes, Lea tweeted me — yes, she did. She said, “Why, thank you.”

You know how, years ago, when you met a personage — Babe Ruth, Albert Schweitzer, Angie Dickinson — you said, “I’m never going to wash my hand again”? There must be a Twitter equivalent of that …

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