Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Bridge World’s Dixie Chick Moment

The US Bridge Federation is sanctioning its women’s championship team for displaying a small, handmade “We did not vote for Bush” sign during their awards ceremony at the world bridge championships in Shanghai. The sanctions include a one-year suspension (which means one year of lost wages, since they are professionals), 200 hours of community service, an apology and a statement ratting out whose idea it was and when they decided to do it.

From the NY Times:

Ms. Greenberg said she decided to put up the sign in response to questions from players from other countries about American interrogation techniques, the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues.

“There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture,” Ms. Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events.”

Ms. Rosenberg said the team members intended the sign as a personal statement that demonstrated American values and noted that it was held up at the same time some team members were singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving small American flags.

“Freedom to express dissent against our leaders has traditionally been a core American value,” she wrote by e-mail. “Unfortunately, the Bush brand of patriotism, where criticizing Bush means you are a traitor, seems to have penetrated a significant minority of U.S. bridge players.”

It should not be a surprise that one of the natural outcomes of our broad policy of scorning international cooperation, as well as specific policies like interrogation (known as “torture” in civilized countries), is that it causes people to question the integrity of individual Americans. As it should. It is being done in our name, so we should be answerable to it. That’s the price of allowing it to happen in a democracy.

These women were trying to tell their international community that they don't support the instigator of these policies. In fact, holding up an anti-Bush sign at this point is about the most patriotic thing a citizen can do, since it indicates some level of interest in the rule of law and human rights as core American values.

Nonetheless, I do understand annoyance at the politicization of a non-political event. I would be annoyed if I were playing bridge at a tournament and someone was wearing an “Club Gitmo” T-shirt. It is hard enough to bid and count cards without all the emotional baggage of playing against an enthusiastic supporter of torture.

But, if politics is to be banned, then it should be part of the bylaws of the organization, and should include everything from “I support the troops” to “Save baby whales,” as well as banning the use of flags and patriotic songs. You either allow politics in, or you don’t. You don’t discriminate based on the specific politics being expressed.

I especially enjoyed this tidbit though:

Robert S. Wolff, one of the country’s pre-eminent bridge players said ...“While I believe in the right to free speech, to me that doesn’t give anyone the right to criticize one’s leader at a foreign venue in a totally nonpolitical event,” he wrote by e-mail.

He believes in the theory of free speech, but apparently not the practice of it. Or, more accurately, he believes in freedom of thought, not freedom of speech. Maybe he should work on getting that pesky constitution changed. After all, it's only a few words.

If the ladies end up caving, I think they should do their 200 hours of community service for the ACLU or Amnesty International. Perhaps they can be put to work by doing training seminars for American bridge players who confuse the exercise of liberty with "conduct unbecoming a federation member."


dw said...

It rings, to me, of "you messed up our annual party" more than real political disagreement. Alas.


Robert Sievers said...

Bridge works because people of all classes, walks of life, religious values, and political values can get together and have fun playing A GAME.

Some of my best bridge friends and I have had wonderful political discussions, but not at the bridge club.

snarkbutt said...

And yet we still have people in this country who will insist that Bush is a "uniter, not a divider."

By Bob's own admission, bridge is an activity that unites people, and here we have an example of how Bush's divisive legacy affects even this harmless game.