On April 16, the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Jack Nicklaus "in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf." Previous medal recipients have included everyone from George Washington to Howard Hughes to Bob Hope. Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer both have one; so do Rosa Parks and Harry Chapin. Basically, it's a fancy participation ribbon for the sort of good Americans who get ponderous PBS documentaries made about their lives. The Nicklaus vote was 373-4 in favor.
If you're at all like us, your eyes went directly to the right side of the dash. Four voted nay? Who were these four voices in the wilderness?
Well, we checked the roll call. The four no votes were all Republicans—Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble, and Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell. We contacted the offices of all four Congressmen. Here are their explanations:
Rep. Justin Amash: (Note: When I spoke with a staffer, he referred me to Amash's Facebook page, where the Congressman had already explained himself.)
The Congressional Gold Medal originally was awarded for acts of heroism, especially during war. George Washington was the first recipient, and until the Civil War, the medal was given only to members of the Armed Forces. In the late 1800s, Congress began awarding the medal to civilians in recognition of other talents or achievements. In the 1900s, Congress awarded many more medals, sometimes to celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and John Wayne. I think the original purpose of the Congressional Gold Medal is better than Congress's modern practice. Jack Nicklaus had a legendary golfing career. But I think it's better to reserve the medal for those whose heroism and self-sacrifice was made to save the lives of others. I voted "no."
Spokeswoman for Rep. Jason Chaffetz:
Congress has better ways to spend their time and more important things to do than making and passing resolutions for golfers.
Spokesman for Rep. Scott Rigell:
The Congressman believes these awards should only be handed out to those who have sacrificed their lives protecting our freedom.
Rep. Reid Ribble:
As members of Congress we need to be doing real work, not just filling time—especially when our economy is struggling and our nation is $15 trillion in debt. As a golfer myself, I love Jack Nicklaus, but I love my grandchildren more.
Our politics is hopelessly broken. Congress can't even unanimously award crap to famous golfers anymore.