It is a curious fact that you rarely find more brassbound political folly and ignorance in a newspaper than on its Sports page. Open it up the News or Metro section and chances are you will encounter some run-of-the-mill stupidity, hardly worthy of note. An ill-equipped reporter will have comically bungled some point of Christian theology or ethics. A political commentator will misrepresent some long-standing point of Conservative principle in a commonplace way, or reach for a worn-out catchphrase of abuse. The typical unexamined assumption will form the basis for some mean and uninteresting piece of claptrap. You will hardly think twice about it.
It is only on the Sports page, it seems, that the really outstanding asininity appears. It is only there where a commentator will reach for a worn-out catchphrase with all the exuberance of creativity, as if he had invented it. It is only there that you will stumble upon some throwaway line about Republicans being the party of greed with their tax cuts for the rich, and in a shock of understanding you will realize that the writer thinks he has discovered these terrible crimes all by himself.
Among the more striking pieces of this peculiar stupidity is the long-running annoyance that liberals in the sports media have with Tiger Woods’s consistent silence on politics. Even when attending a celebrity-filled event for the inauguration of President Obama in Washington, D.C., the golfer gave a muted speech about American heroism, not words of passion and support for the new president or his policies. That Mr. Woods will not take the media advice and become a political activist in the Leftist mold disturbs and exasperates them. And so we are treated to innuendo and invective along these lines: “I understand why Woods takes few firm positions. Having a stance is risky. It takes stones. It causes people to get angry. When you take some out of their comfort zone, it frightens them, and they react unkindly, even violently.” In short, “Woods has guts on the course. Off of it … Not so much.” That is an actual quotation from a writer examining Mr. Woods’s low-level participation in some of the Obama Inauguration festivities.
Now it is a fact that Tiger Woods is not a reticent man on, for instance, the subject of golf. He can talk at great length about it, and anyone who loves the game will probably find himself listening with baited breath. Mr. Woods, lately, is even willing to speak with some openness on the subject of fatherhood. His wife is expecting their second child, and as Mr. Woods is clearly the son of a man who took fatherhood seriously, few were surprised to discover that he takes this responsibility seriously.
But Mr. Woods is also among that increasingly rare class of celebrity who feels no compunction to pronounce upon politics. Perhaps (we can only speculate) he cleaves to the unusual view that celebrity grants a man no particular competence in this field.
The writer above appears to assume that Mr. Woods shares his conventional view of politics. He just lacks the “stones” to take “firm positions.” But of course, we may fairly surmise, this charge is simply disingenuous. The writer is not actually concerned to persuade Mr. Woods to start taking firm positions according to his conscience. It is not an exercise in authenticity or sincere principle that he is interested in. What he seeks is conformity. He wants Tiger Woods to toe the party line. It is doubtful, for instance, that the writer would praise Mr. Woods’ audacity if that latter took a firm position against affirmative action, or progressive taxation, or gay marriage. Courage is probably the very last impression that would form in his mind if Mr. Woods completed a fine round of golf and then, driven by the pangs of conscience, delivered a fervent lecture on the folly of Keynesian economics, including deficit spending on “stimulus.” If Mr. Woods showed up at Augusta National this April with a prepared statement denouncing the pernicious stupidity of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, it is unlikely that this writer would say to himself, “that took stones.”
As I say, this sort of narrow-mindedness where conformity to convention becomes mandatory when absent, and courageous when present, is all too common in the sports media. So common, indeed, that Tiger Woods’s simple silence on politics — whatever its origins — is enough to arouse indignation.
More broadly, this lauding of stale conformity as courage is a peculiar mark of our age. Where would Hollywood be if it could not dig up the old corpse of traditionalist 1950s America as its most reliable foil? Where would edgy literary critics be if they could not pretend that the canon of Western Civilization was an ongoing sign of paternalist oppression on the new and open university? Where would socialists be if they could not talk like the 1980s were an era of thoroughgoing laissez faire economics? Where would sexual libertines be without the pretense that Americans are autocratic prudes, ever ready to crack down on sexual expression? Where would liberal theologians be if they could not reliably confect their beloved narrative of an omnipresent threat of theocracy?
For the Conservative of impish cast of mind, this bizarre condition is not without its opportunities. As Chesterton put it, “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” I for one will never grow weary of the shock that invariably registers on the face of a thoughtful interlocutor when I am able to show how much legal logic the abortion regime shares with the slavery regime. Nor can I deny a certain exhilaration in a robust denunciation of pornography delivered to a certain type of audience.
Who knows - maybe it is exhilaration that, in part, inspires Tiger Woods to his legendary virtue of temperance or restraint.
[Cross-posted at The New Ledger]