I had a thought on the Notre Dame thing I wanted to share — sort of an offbeat one. A lot of people say, or imply, that other people have a lot of nerve, opposing an invitation to the President of the United States. Why, he’s the President of the United States. What more is there to say?
Well, a fair amount more. I had a memory — had not thought of this episode for a long time. Occurred twelve years ago, in April 1997. Tiger Woods won the Masters, for the first time. And President Clinton immediately invited him to Shea Stadium, to participate in a Jackie Robinson ceremony. Tiger said no-thanks — he had plans to go to Mexico, with friends.
A couple of things went into this, I think. First, Tiger is a pretty conservative guy, and he is very pro-military. His dad served in Vietnam. Tiger was named after a war buddy of his dad’s. I have a feeling Tiger doesn’t have much use for President Clinton. Also, as a rule, he abhors anything racial — anything race-related. (I devoted a piece to this, here.) Then, Tiger is simply an independent cuss.
I commented at the time that it was sort of neat that Tiger turned down that invitation. And a colleague of mine disagreed, strongly. “This is the President of the United States,” he said. He calls, you come. To refuse to do so was something like an act of unpatriotism. And Tiger was showing bad manners, acting like a petulant brat.
My view was much different. Tiger is a citizen of a free republic, not a serf in a kingdom. You don’t have to answer the summons of the ruler. You may choose to do so — you may be flattered and giddy — but you aren’t compelled to do so. As I saw it, Tiger showed a fine republican spirit. The president is a mortal, who happened to be elected to an important office. He may be a saint; he may be a horse’s butt. Free people can respond to him, or not, as they like.
It is possible to make too much of the presidency, and whoever its occupant is. I have a feeling that the White House takes up too much mental space in America. A proper respect for the incumbent is called for, as a proper respect for any person is. But you don’t have to bend the knee . . .
(I know, I know: Readers of my column think that I can drag golf — or music — into anything, which is almost true.)