Skip to comments.America’s Republican guard (Irish Ingrates)
Posted on 09/22/2006 7:17:25 PM PDT by go-dubya-04
Bruce Selcraig on why so many US golfers align themselves to right-wing politics and born-again Christianity
15/09/06: During Ryder Cup week, were it not for the zesty uniforms or a tell-tale buenos días, the casual fan might be excused for no longer seeing much difference between the European pros and their American counterparts.
They all seem to have their retinues of personal trainers, agents and nutritionists. They swing and dress much alike, excepting the neon plumage of an Ian Poulter or Jesper Parnevik. They drive the same luxury cars, have similar messy divorces, and whether they be from Denmark or Denver offer up the same golf cliches in a globalised TV-ready English that pleases their corporate sponsors.
Its not really surprising considering that more Europeans than ever play the US tour, and many of them, including Ryder members Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald and Paul Casey, played their college golf in the US. But theres still one significant cultural divide that, while hardly apparent to the casual golf fan, has now become so sensitive an issue most players simply avoid addressing it when theyre on the others turf. Simply put, many Europeans and other international players are put off by the overwhelming number of American PGA Tour players who identify themselves as George Bush-loving Republicans who support the US occupation of Iraq.
"Every movie you see, every book you read is like, America, were the best country in the world," German Alex Cejka told me in May at the Byron Nelson tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. "When I hear this (from players) I could throw up. Sure its a great country . . . but you cannot say we have the most powerful president in the world, the biggest country in the world . . . Its sad that they are influenced by so much bullshit."
The affable and well-read Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who won the US Open and has lived in Arizona with his Texas wife for four years, says: "A lot of their conservative views (on tour) are way off the map . . . I think George Bush is a bit dangerous. I think the world is scared while hes in office, (but) theres less tolerance of diversity (in opinions) over here (and) people have more blind faith in their government."
Various Europeans have hinted that they have similar views, but say privately theyll be crucified in American locker-rooms and newspapers if they publicly oppose Bush, his fundamentalist Christian agenda or the Iraq war.
"Thats the new way of American censorship," said Parnevik, as he baked on the driving range in Fort Worth. "People get hurt very badly if they speak out."
Two years ago American baseball star Carlos Delgado, who is from Puerto Rico, silently protested the Iraq war by refusing to participate in the ceremonial singing of God Bless America during games. He was later booed at many stadiums and called "un-American" on radio talk shows.
Americans boycotted the Dixie Chicks band when the lead singer of the Texas trio, Natalie Maines, told a London audience: "Just so you know, were ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
And sure enough, when told of the above comments by European golfers, American tour player Olin Browne, a 14-year veteran, responded thus: "The players who like to criticise America sure do like to come over here and play in our events."
While these random comments are just that, they seem to closely mirror the attitudes of other nations toward America, which were exhaustively surveyed in 2005 by the non-partisan, Washing ton DC-based Pew Research Center. In that study, which surveyed 17,000 people in 16 nations, approval ratings of the US have plummeted since 2002 France at 43 per cent, Germany and Spain 41, Britain 55 and respondents overwhelmingly blamed the policies of George Bush. Even in Canada, Americas closest ally, positive feelings about the US fell from 72 per cent in 2002 to 59 per cent last year.
Now no one is suggesting the world of professional golf is some cauldron of political ferment or that pro golfers anywhere care more about foreign policy than hitting crisp irons.
In America, with several notable exceptions, most pros seem like friendly apolitical athletes who, if the conversation veers from golf, can talk about football or "reality" TV but seem clueless about current events and have little inclination to read books not unlike Bush, who memorably confessed to a lack of interest in literature.
Its a cliche but a telling one that in the US PGA Tour media guide the most popular "special interest" listed by the players is fishing followed by hunting.
The famously laid-back but college-educated Fred Couples, no doubt speaking for many on tour, once told me during the Bill Clinton years that he had never voted.
Ask about politics on the American tour and youll get a lot of "I dont care", and the occasional butt-chewing. "You wont get anything out of me," said Tom Watson testily. "Nothing. Nada. Its none of your business."
But there is definitely a sizeable and often vocal element among the Americans that follows politics, advocates right-wing Republican policies tax cuts for the rich, corporate welfare, pro-death penalty, anti-gay marriage, anti-labour unions and increasingly, identifies with evangelical Christian ideology.
In a Sports Illustrated survey of 76 US Tour players published in March, 88 per cent said they supported the American invasion of Iraq, and 91 per cent supported Bushs controversial nomination of Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court a judge who was welcomed by Republican and fundamentalist Christian groups as the courts swing vote in one day outlawing abortion.
This Republican tilt on tour has been documented since at least the Ronald Reagan administration and is so widely accepted as fact that in the presidential election year of 1996, Golf Digest asked me to do a story on tour politics and specifically hunt for any golfer who would actually admit to supporting Clinton, a Democrat. (In 1993, some Republicans on the American Ryder Cup team threatened to boycott a visit to the White House to protest a Clinton tax plan that raised taxes on the rich.) My search turned up only one heretic the former US Open winner Scott Simpson a free spirit and "born-again Christian" who has now reversed his thinking and supports Bush.
For those unfamiliar with American politics, the Republican party has become inextricably tied to the evangelical Christian movement, which can mobilise millions of votes through its churches to affect local, state and national elections. George Bush, who campaigned for office as a born-again Christian, is the icon of the evangelical movement and once famously told a group of Amish farmers: "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldnt do my job."
Not by accident, the American pro golf world, which has been heavily influenced by corporate America and Republican politics for at least 30 years, now has such a strong element of Christian fundamentalists that the entire Ryder Cup leadership Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts are self-professed born-again Christians. Roberts was even converted and baptised at a tournament.
In the book The Way of an Eagle, Lehman says: "God has definitely used golf in a great way over the last several years. I think of myself as a Christian who plays golf, not as a golfer who is a Christian. So whatever kind of job I do, there is a way for God to use that as a tool. In society at large, especially the way golf is growing, there is a huge platform for golfers."
Perhaps because of his public Christianity and several incidents of less-than-Christ-like behaviour, Lehman has developed an unfavourable reputation in some golf circles. John Huggan, the European golf correspondent for Golf Digest, recounts how Lehman confronted him angrily when he wrote about Lehmans much-criticised behaviour in 1999 at the Ryder Cup outside Boston, when he led the ghastly American charge of players across the 17th green following Justin Leonards miraculous putt.
"How dare you," Lehman told Huggan. "How dare you sum up my whole character on the basis of that one incident."
Huggan replied that it was the only negative story he had ever written about Lehman, among many flattering ones, and that his whining was unprofessional. To which Lehman said, "Well, f*** you then," and marched off.
I would have thought maybe Huggan just caught his holiness on a bad day, but I had my own brief glimpse of the inner Lehman some years earlier. Lehman, who has never hidden his right-wing politics, once overheard me say the word "Clinton" while I was interviewing a caddie on the driving range of the Texas Open in San Antonio.
Unsmiling, he stopped in mid-stride, walked over and said, "You mean that draft-dodging baby-killer?" and then walked on. (Clinton opposed criminalising abortion, which most Republicans support, and he openly admits that as a Rhodes scholar he used family influence, just as Bush did, to avoid the Vietnam War.)
There are now official chaplains and weekly Bible study groups, or "fellowships", on each of the four American pro tours, and various players either display the Christian fish symbol on their golf bags or wear a popular cloth bracelet that says "W.W.J.D" What Would Jesus Do.
"Its not seen as so strange any more for a player to be open about his faith," former tour pro Bobby Clampett told Golf World. "Theyre no longer called The God Squad or Jesus Freaks like we were 20 years ago. Now its cool."
Well, perhaps not everywhere.
David Feherty, the former Europe Ryder Cup member from Northern Ireland who is now a popular TV golf commentator in America, believes the very public display of fire-and-brimstone Christianity is still unsettling to most Europeans.
"I think a lot of Europeans find that conservative Christian thing as frightening as conservative Muslims," he says. "If you find any European pros who are in that Bible-thumping category, its usually because theyve been to the United States."
Again, the Pew Research Center studies shed some light. Their 2002 survey of 38,000 people in 44 nations found that more people in the US (59 per cent) said religion was "very important" to them than in any other developed country vastly more than even heavily Catholic Italy (27 per cent) or Poland (36 per cent).
Feherty, who lives in Bushs home state of Texas, offered that the Europeans shouldnt be seen as a bunch of "godless heathens" because they dont advertise their Christianity. "I think they believe its your own business. Keep it to yourself."
But the larger question of why so many American pro golfers more than football, basketball or baseball players relate to right-wing Republicans would be fodder for a political-science class. When Ive asked that question of tour players over the last decade, the initial response is a familiar one among the upper class. It goes something like this: "We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and we dont like the government giving away our money."
Or, as American journeyman Robert Gamez told me in May: "We love our money . . . Democrats want you to pay for everyone . . . George Bush is all about family values. Look at us. Were all into our families. And we believe what Bush stands for. Hes done a great job so far." (In reality, Bush and the Republican Congress have gutted many programmes for the poor and cut benefits for war veterans to help fund his tax cuts for the wealthy, but true fiscal conservatives arent happy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Bush has produced Americas third largest budget deficit in the last century, at over 352 billion for 2006.)
The conventional wisdom for why so many American golf pros vote Republican is that unlike their European mates, many of them were raised in upper-class, homogenised neighbourhoods often gated suburban estates and learned their golf at private, all-white country clubs. (Born from that mentality, the American PGA Tour expressly prohibited blacks from playing in its tournaments until 1961.)
In that environment they were surrounded by like-minded Republicans who shared their love for golf. When the young players arrived on tour they found virtually everything of any value literally handed to them, from Dell laptop computers to new cars, clothing and stock-market advice, all happily provided by corporate sponsors who love to associate themselves with the squeaky-clean image of the PGA Tour.
Its an exceptionally privileged life, but theyre happy to remind you that they have no guaranteed contracts like most American sports stars, say, a Michael Jordan, who would have been paid his entire multi-year contract with the Chicago Bulls even if he sustained a career- ending injury.
From that lap of luxury, with CEOs calling on their mobiles asking for putting advice, its not hard to imagine that the American tour pros see their lifestyle being attacked by those less fortunate.
"My taxes are wasted on people who dont give a damn," I heard 10 years ago from 1993 Ryder Cup member John Cook, who has earned 9.3 million in his career and now lives in the elite Florida community of Isleworth, outside Orlando. Tanned like the California surfer he once was, and eminently likeable, Cook surveyed the typical tournament scene of corporate tents, courtesy Cadillacs and gentle pop tunes wafting from a Four Seasons Hotel and declared without a hint of irony how he was adamantly opposed to raising the US minimum wage, which at the time was 3.40 an hour. In a full decade it has only risen to 4.18, roughly half the Irish minimum.
"Im the luckiest man alive," Cook told me, "but Ive earned my money. I pay my taxes. Liberals are always fighting what this is all about the corporate boxes, people working hard, not getting something for nothing . . . I dont know many liberals."
And therein lies the problem. America has become a very polarised place, where people of like religion and politics carefully gather themselves in "right-thinking" communities, schools, churches and workplaces. During Bushs six years in office this trend has only intensified, with our 50 states now routinely referred to as red for Republican or blue for Democrat, based on the TV networks colour-coded election coverage. In many ways, the famed American melting pot is a myth, and tolerance an illusion.
"There is a lot of ethnic and racial diversity in the US," Jesper Parnevik told me, pausing to choose his words carefully. Like all the foreign players I spoke to he has found much to love about Americans and didnt want to sound unkind.
"But they all seem to hang with each other. Rich with rich. Republican with Republican . . . In Europe, we seem to have a broader mix of friends."
I admit I did not read the article but I think the Irish media is very liberal like ours in the US. I know the media over there is always trying to undermine the Catholic Church.
This would never happen in, let's say, Northern Ireland.
But they all seem to hang with each other. Rich with rich. Republican with Republican.
A scary story, boys and girls!
I would think this Euroweenie Sitzpinkler has a little bit of an inferiority complex...very tough to be a German and hear that kind of thing...:)
It is pretty funny to read this...the Euroweenie Intelligensia thinks ALL Americans are born again, hypocritical bible thumping Wal-Mart shoppers who are into NASCAR and fishing...
LOL! There are few things funnier than a European with an inferiority complex and a burr under their saddle, or up their ass!
No, don't be ashamed. It's not your roots, it's just modern Ireland. They've forgotten where they came from. You haven't.
Most of the young adults are as well. My cousin is a flaming liberal who sends me his unsolicited views on America. Like I give a s@#% what he thinks of this country. Please read the article to see how absolutely skewed it is. Very easy to talk about diversity when you live in a country that was, until very recently, 99% white and all the same religion. In Northern Ireland, where the only difference is how they worship Jesus, they are at each other throats and are as "tolerant" of the other views as the KKK is of Jews. Pathetic. Now that they are being invaded by Muzzies and other Turd World types, we'll see how perfect they handle such issues 20 years from now. It will be France with a brogue.
American Irish Guard
This article is laughable tripe and has nothing to do with the true Irish heritage.
Yes, I've always thought of Europe as a very egalitarian place. No kings, no queens, no nobility, no classes -- just everyone hanging out together drinking Bud Lights.
That goes double for me. I just got off an Irish blog. The things that are said about America and Americans I wouldn't even say about our worst enemy. I am beginning to absolutely despise Europeans. Truly, I've got to stay away from their newspapers and their blogs why be exposed to such hate and spite?
And stack prize money, and stack endorsement money, and marry our women, and set up residence in states with low or no income tax. Hypocritical much?
Hmmm. Well, let me choose MY words carefully. The Europeans I have known have tended to be loud-mouthed liberals who love nothing better than to taunt and challenge anyone who doesn't think exactly as they do. For instance, if the Communists currently support a "nuclear freeze," then so do they unquestioningly, and they think anyone who doesn't is a closet Nazi. They invariably hate the sitting US President, and love nothing better than to claim that any successful athlete is just a "tool of the corporations." As for having a "broader mix of friends," I have to laugh at that. They may have conservatives as colleagues and perhaps playing partners because they absolutely have no choice, but friends? I don't think so, not from what I've seen.
Ok, back to you, Jesper.
I couldn't read it all, it was too stupid.
Only a sports writer, one of the most useless of professions on the planet, would equate an athlete cursing off a sports writer with that athlete's political bend, in ref to the Lehman paragraphs.
Complete twattle written by a political dolt.
Consider where the foreign press gets their information. They hang out with liberals (over there they are called socialists), and they read the New York Times.
Europeans are also very quick to pick on matters of style, and they love making fun of each other. They also like making fun of us. We Americans are actually much more tolerant! Yes, I really think that in day-to-day contact, we are used to living and working with a variety of people. Whenever I travel to Europe I am rather surprised at how xenophobic they are to each other. So when they dump on us, it's partly because it is their nature.
They believe what they read, and they nourish stereotypes of us.
If you wish to meet friendly Europeans, go to Poland, parts of Italy, and Greece; also some of the other eastern European countries.