Condi Rice's membership at Augusta National is nothing to celebrate

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tees off at the 8th hole during the Pro-Am event prior to the start of the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles Feb. 16, 2011. AFP/Getty Images

This column originally appeared on The Nation's website Monday night.

(The Nation) In a week where the phrase "legitimate rape" became part of the American political discourse, it's understandable that anyone who believes in women's liberation would be scavenging for some good news. Like a parched soul in the desert, many believe that a trickle of water, if not an oasis, has appeared. After eighty years of antediluvian sexism, the Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters, has finally decided to admit women into its ranks. All hail the trailblazers: President George W. Bush's national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina billionaire banking executive Darla Moore.

As Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote, "Today, one of the last bastions of male supremacy is no more. Today, Augusta National has made a crucial statement to every girl and woman who has thought about picking up a golf club. The message is simple: You are welcome."

Her joy is certainly understandable. This is a club where as recently as 2002, after a series of protests, then-club President Hootie Johnson said that Augusta National would never admit a woman, not even "at the point of a bayonet." The woman who led those protests, Martha Burk, received dozens of death threats. Today she was on ESPN radio saying simply that "the women's movements, the U.S. women's groups and individual women who have been pushing for change for 50 years, yeah, we won."

PGA tour President Tim Finchem, who was frightened to raise a whisper of criticism against Augusta National, today tried to get some of the glow, saying, "At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport."

And yet, please forgive me if I don't join the chorus of cheers. Rice and Moore are not twenty-first-century Jackie Robinsons, and their acceptance into this bastion of exclusion has nothing to do with women's liberation and is utterly disconnected from the reality of daily life for millions of American women.

Condi Rice as a symbol of female power? Only if by power, we mean the power to put thousands of Iraqi women in graves all in the name of a war based on lies that she actively promoted.

Then there are the birth defects suffered by the children of women in Iraq. In 2009, the Guardian reported that doctors in Fallujah were were "dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants, compared to a year ago, and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting."

A hospital spokesman, Nadim al-Hadidi, told the Inter Press Service, "In 2004 the Americans tested all kinds of chemicals and explosive devices on us: thermobaric weapons, white phosphorous, depleted uranium.... we have all been laboratory mice for them."

There were also, under Rice's watch, 19,000 reported sexual assaults of women combat troops in the the US Armed Forces every single year. As the Guardian reported, "A female solider in Iraq is more likely to be attacked by a fellow soldier than killed by military fire."

In an eerie echo of the Representative Akin controversy, these women, if impregnated during their assault, could not get an abortion on a US military base. Rice, who claims to be pro-choice, never raised a voice on behalf of these women.

In a sane world, Rice would be awaiting trial at the Hague. Instead, she gets to play golf at a club that, incidentally, didn't allow African-Americans until 1990.

As for Darla Moore, she is a banking billionaire who lives on a South Carolina plantation that's been in her family for seven generations. She is a longtime friend of the Bush family as well as of the aforementioned Hootie Johnson. Ten years ago, when asked about becoming the club's first female member, she said, "I'm as progressive as they come. But some things ought not to be messed with."

I'm sure it's tempting to look at today as an advance for women in sports. But it's very difficult to think that today's national celebration of a multi-billionaire and a war criminal has anything to do with women's liberation. If anything, this should only be a story because it's so unbelievable that the membership of the Augusta National Golf Club still opposed the presence of women in 2012. The only way this club could be any kind of symbol of progress and justice is if the people of Augusta, Georgia, a whopping 32 percent of whom live below the US poverty line, took to the eighteenth green and occupied the Masters. Let's see whose side Condi Rice and Darla Moore would be on then.

Named one of UTNE Reader's "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World," Dave Zirin is the sports editor for The Nation magazine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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