Bill Clinton was caught in the act. The evidence was...

Mike Royko

March 30, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

Bill Clinton was caught in the act. The evidence was overwhelming. So he immediately pleaded guilty, expressed remorse, and said he wouldn't do it again.

In case you missed it, his offense was getting a fast nine holes at a private golf club in Arkansas that has given him an honorary membership because he is governor.

The press -- ever alert to political incorrectness, insensitivity and other crimes against humanity -- was quick to tattle on him.

That's because the private club in Arkansas -- like about 90 percent of all private golf clubs -- has no black members. And that's a fringe social issue that's been trying for the last few years to grow into a major social issue.

There are several reasons why it hasn't achieved this status.

First, blacks haven't been storming the country club gates demanding the right to plunk down anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000, which is the going rate to join a club in large metropolitan areas that have sizable black populations.

If they did, some clubs would accept them. On the other hand, other clubs would turn them down because, there is no question about it, most clubs discriminate in one way or another.

Not only against blacks. Some old-line WASP clubs reject Catholics or have a quota. Some heavily Catholic clubs reject Jews. Some predominantly Jewish clubs reject Gentiles. And there are clubs that look with contempt upon people who earned their fortunes. Only old money, earned by gramps, is considered respectable.

Then there are the all-male golf clubs, which are dwindling in number. Obviously, they don't accept women, which is why they are all-male clubs.

By now, most smart politicians know better than to go to a club that doesn't have blacks or women. (It's still OK to swat the ball around a course that doesn't welcome Catholics, Jews or the newly rich because Catholics, Jews and the newly rich have their own clubs.)

So as a smart politician, Slick Willie, as the home folks call him, should have known better than to be on that golf course. As Jerry Brown, who doesn't miss a chance to pounce, quickly noted, even President Bush wouldn't do something like that.

And, of course, Brown is right. The advance men for Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle check out any golf club they're going to play to make sure there is at last one token minority member. (If you went back five or 10 years, though, you'd probably find that Bush and Quayle played courses and belonged to clubs where the only black was toting their bag.)

By quickly apologizing, Clinton did the smart thing. But I have to admit being disappointed in him. Once again, I wish a politician would not be predictable.

For instance, he might have said:

"OK, you got me. I played nine holes at this club which has no black members, and I've been out here about a half a dozen times this year.

"So give me a rap, even though my record in public life shows that I'm not a bigot and have been pretty consistent in my support of equal rights.

"But while you're at it, how about some of you newspaper people asking the owners and publishers of your papers what the minority membership is at the clubs they belong to. Aren't they public figures, shapers of opinion, community leaders?

"And that goes for you TV guys, too. Ask your station managers and the other executives about their private clubs. For that matter, ask some of your high-priced anchormen how many black brothers are welcome in their locker rooms.

"I can understand Jerry Brown zinging me about this. But I don't recall that when he was governor of California he ever lectured some of his wealthy show-business friends about belonging to clubs that discriminated. Back then, before he found political religion and purity, he was too busy hustling them for $10,000 campaign contributions.

"So let me have it. That is your job. But when you write the story, I ask only that you ask yourself these questions: 'Why do I, a white reporter, live in an all-white suburb? Why do I send my children to all-white schools? And why am I making a big deal out of this guy playing nine holes of golf at a club I would join in a minute if I could afford it?'

"Now I will resume my campaign. I will go in diners, shopping centers, outside factory gates and shake hands. And it wouldn't surprise me if a sizable number of those hands belong to bigots.

"I wish that weren't so, but that's part of the sad reality of life in America, the land of the brave, the free and bigotry.

"And if you think that anyone can get elected president without a few votes from bigots, you ought to be covering the Boy Scout beat. Thank you very much."

D: Clinton golf flap: maybe he should swing at media

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