Monday: Culture War

“They were the perfect Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.” The Tennessee delegate dated himself by this reference—as I did by getting it. (I saw Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis play for Army in the 1940s.) “Buchanan spoke to the people in the Astrodome, and Reagan spoke to those outside it.” Pat Buchanan, coming first, had nudged Ronald Reagan out of prime time, which was a symbol of what the right wing had been doing all through the run up to the Republican convention. The forces of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson had dictated terms to the platform hearings. “Total victory,” Phyllis Schlafly crowed over the no-exceptions anti-abortion amendment. “None of the big tent garbage.” Bay Buchanan, Pat’s sister and campaign manager, said, “We got our platform four years early.”

The mere fact that Buchanan was speaking, and in such a prominent opening-night spot, showed that President Bush did not feel in a position to retaliate for Buchanan’s insulting challenge to his nomination in the primaries. Buchanan was even exempted from the vetting of his text that all other noncandidates submitted to. All Buchanan had to guarantee was that he would endorse Bush—which he did on his own terms: that he be allowed to define, from the outset, this campaign’s meaning.

What is that meaning? Republican campaigns, hitherto based on the cold war, must now be based on the equally important culture war:

There is a religious war going on in this country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton [Bill and Hillary] are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side.

That little word “our” did heavy work in Buchanan’s speech. Pornography should not be allowed to pollute “our” popular culture. Those who voted for him in the primaries “share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams.” He ended with an extended analogy: as the brave young men of the 18th Cavalry retook streets after the Los Angeles riots, block by block, so “we must take back our cities, and take back our culture and take back our country.”

It was not generally noticed that Buchanan’s speech was a reworking of the commencement address he gave to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty College last May.1 He described there his reaction to the televised laughter of rioters in Los Angeles:

Theirs was the authentic laughter of the barbarian from time immemorial, after some church or synagogue is burned and looted, after they have brutalized and beaten. From Brown Shirts to Red Guards, the mocking laughter is always the same. Friends, make no mistake: what we saw in Los Angeles was evil exultant and triumphant, and we no longer saw it as through a glass darkly, but face to face.

Buchanan went on to say that only force can turn back “evil exultant”—not social programs, not job training, not do-goodism. That might be true if the blacks in Los Angeles were Brown Shirts or Red Guards. The terrorism of those groups was ordered from the top, to protect an evil regime in control of courts and society’s center. But the Los Angeles blacks were not disciplined troops systematically eliminating opposition to a regime, they were people flailing impotently at police who had beaten a man and at courts that exonerated those police. The man who delivered the thirtieth blow to an unarmed Rodney King, surrounded by complicitous men in uniform, some of whom had chuckled at “gorillas” over their radios, were closer to Brown Shirts than were the foolish rioters savaging their own.

But Buchanan was not primarily interested in the rioters in Los Angeles. In his eyes, they were put up to their destructive acts. They were doing the will of others. The rioters destroyed this or that grocery store. Those behind them, manipulating them, intend nothing less than the destruction of “Judeo-Christian culture.” And Clinton & Clinton is the law firm for these destroyers. The important thing was not what the mob itself did, but where the mob came from. His Liberty College address answered that question:

It came out of public schools from which God and the Ten Commandments and the Bible were long ago expelled. It came out of corner drugstores where pornography is everywhere on the magazine racks. It came out of movie theaters and away from TV sets where macho violence is romanticized. It came out of rock concerts where rap music celebrates raw lust and cop-killing. It came out of churches that long ago gave themselves up to social action, and it came out of families that never existed.

The mob comes, in short, from “the adversary [i.e., liberal] culture, with its implacable hostility to Judeo-Christian teaching.”


The way to dispel the mob, in other words, is with prayer in schools, a ban on Playboy, censorship of movies and rock music, and abolition of the National Council of Churches. But these acts of cultural self-defense are being blocked by the enemies within. So all the energies of the cold war must now be redeployed to conquer that enemy within:

A year ago I stood on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, as Gen. Schwarzkopf led the armies of Desert Storm in the victory parade. It was a moving sight. As I told a friend, this is what it must have been like reviewing the Roman legions as they marched in triumph after yet another victory in Gaul or Spain.

The analogy holds. As America’s imperial troops guard frontiers all over the world, our own frontiers are open, and the barbarian is inside the gates. And you do not deal with the Vandals and Visigoths who are pillaging your cities by expanding the Head Start and food stamp programs.

While some are talking about postwar conversion problems in terms of phasing out the cold war military establishment, Buchanan thinks of conversion as a turning of energies from an outer enemy to an inner one.

It was not an unshared fantasy in this gathering. Lacking the cold war as a unifying enemy, many Republicans decided that liberal Democrats had taken up the standard that fell from Stalin’s hand. It was not surprising that Pat Robertson would echo this theme. One day after Buchanan, he orated: “The people of Eastern Europe got rid of their left wingers; it is time we in America get rid of our left wingers.” Though world communism has collapsed, centralized government in America is “a more benign but equally insidious plague…[and] the carrier of this plague is the Democrat Party.” But the extremist orators were not the only ones sounding this theme. The platform itself, entitled The Vision Shared, said:

At a time when the rest of the world has rejected socialism, there are communities here at home where free markets have not been permitted to flourish. Decades of liberalism have left us with two economies [one free, one not].2

The keynote speaker picked up the theme. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas ranked Democrats along with the two surviving Communist regimes:

Thanks to the leadership of President Bush, freedom has swept the planet. And all over the world people are turning to free enterprise and limited government to promote economic growth and prosperity. Don’t you know the Democrats are lonely tonight! In all the world, only in Cuba and North Korea and in the Democratic Party in America do we still have organized political groups who believe that the answer to every problem is more government.

The President himself made a nod to this notion in his acceptance speech, saying Democrats want us to live with “the tattered blanket of bureaucracy that other nations are throwing away.”

It is said that the Republicans need a new enemy now that communism is gone. Many of them think that enemy has not so much disappeared as gone underground, nearer to us. For them, this election is not merely the moral equivalent of the cold war but the equivalent tout court. In this, as in many other respects, Buchanan’s speech was not a bitter exception to the more “moderate” addresses of the week. He simply put plainly what the others nudged toward us, nodding, in hints and code.

Even Ronald Reagan, whose speech would be continually contrasted with Buchanan’s preceding one, had a more graceful way to suggest that Democrats were on the losing side of the cold war. Noticing that even some Democrats now say, “We won the cold war,” Reagan, in his pleasantly musing way, said, “I heard those speakers at that other convention saying ‘we won the cold war’—and I couldn’t help wondering, just who exactly do they mean by ‘we’?” Liberals, he went on to suggest, are trying to make “America herself forget the lessons of individual liberty that she has taught a grateful world.” Much of the late talk on Monday was about Reagan’s as the sunnier face of conservatism, which works more effectively than does Buchanan’s surly and snarling way. When Reagan was playing Reagan, Buchanan watched the movies that taught him to imitate his look-alike, the 1950s B-movie heavy Ted de Corsia.

But Buchanan followers could take some comfort from the fact that Reagan, always welcome back on the nostalgia circuit, is definitely a voice of the past, even in the eyes of former admirers. On the day he spoke, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times ran stories on the former president’s low standing in current polls—lower than Jimmy Carter’s. In fact, Thomas B. Edsall of The Washington Post reversed the judgment of my Tennessee delegate who called Reagan “Mr. Outside”: “There is also strong evidence that among a crucial segment of conservative voters, the memory of Reagan has soured—that the Reagan message will play far better here inside the Astrodome than on the outside.”3


Actually, Buchanan-Reagan were less Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside than the Bad Cop and Good Cop meant to accomplish the same thing by using complementary tactics; and the tone was set by the Bad Cop, not vice versa. The pattern would be repeated on each of the following nights.

Tuesday: Polling Huts

On the second night, Newt Gingrich played Bad Cop to Jack Kemp’s Good Cop. The keynote address by Phil Gramm was simply embarrassing. In his own best huckster words, he called the Clinton-Gore team a pair of used-car salesmen, prompting an inevitable protest from the used-car salesmen’s professional organization. Gramm came up with the most imaginative answer to the problem of President Bush’s record drop in the polls (plummeting fifty points in five months). Pollsters were simply looking in the wrong place. They should have been knocking on the doors (if any) of huts in darkest Wherever: “In any hut in any village on the planet, one world leader is loved, honored, and admired above all others. Spoken in a thousand dialects, his name is still George Bush.” Still? Were we expecting it to change? The most convincing moment in the speech came when Gramm gave us the supererogatory assurance that “I failed the third, seventh, and ninth grades.”

Wednesday: Family Night

This was, in some ways, the real climax of the convention. The whole platform had been organized around “family values,” and more talk was devoted to this theme than to the economy. Even national security, long a Republican specialty and this President’s chosen field of endeavor, came late in the platform, beginning on page 100 of a 123-page document. The economy was not taken up until page 40. The whole first part of the book was devoted to such urgent matters as teaching teen-agers sexual abstinence—a strange new mandate for government in a party that once claimed government should not “intrude” into the individual’s life. On pages 20–21, we read:

We oppose programs in public schools that provide birth control or abortion services or referrals [the so-called “gag rule” on clinics]. Instead, we encourage abstinence education programs with proven track records in protecting youth from disease, pregnancy, and drug use.

The subject recurs six pages later: “We reject the notion that the distribution of clean needles and condoms are [sic] the solution to stopping [sic] the spread of AIDS. Education designed to curb the spread of this disease should stress marital fidelity, abstinence, and a drug-free lifestyle.” This was not simply the platform voice of a runaway conservative faction. The Bush official in charge of family-planning activity (and the gagged clinics) at the Department of Health and Human Services is William Archer, a thirty-seven-year-old bachelor who witnesses to his convictions with his own sexual abstention—though he admitted to one clinic worker that he had engaged in sex six years earlier and regretted it.4 I asked Mr. Archer why he opposed the distribution of condoms in high school, and he said the decrease in pregnancies caused by proper condom use was offset by the encouragement of sexual activity, causing even more pregnancies. The same thing applied to prevention of AIDS.

The icon for family values in the illustrated platform book was Barbara Bush, who is shown in one picture (page 56) teaching a multiracial group of children how to read. An earlier picture is a “twofer”—it shows Mrs. Bush with a multiracial group including a cub scout. The scouts are another icon here—African American girl scouts are shown in a later picture. The scouts are put on the frontline of the “family values” battle because of their refusal to accept gays:

We also stand united with those private organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, who are defending decency in fulfillment of their own moral responsibilities. We regret the irresponsible position of those corporations that have cut off contributions to such organizations because of their courageous stand for family values. Moreover, we oppose efforts by the Democrat Party to include sexual preference as a protected minority receiving preferential status under civil rights statutes at the federal, state, and local level.

“Family values” meant stigmatizing the Democrats as the party of gay rights. Buchanan, in his opening-night speech, made five separate references to gays, usually eliciting boos from the crowd. On “family night,” Pat Robertson attacked Clinton because “he wants to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military and appoint homosexuals to his administration.”5 The vice-president, on Thursday, would say treating “alternate lifestyles” as “morally equivalent” is wrong.

The Republicans’ official line at the convention was that “family values” was not simply a code term for opposition to gays. They were right. It was also code for suggesting that Bill and Hillary Clinton are not upholders of family values—he as an unfaithful husband, she as a mother opposed to home life. When party officers were asked, repeatedly, what “family values” means, they answered so uniformly as to indicate an approved strategy. The formula ran: “We think George and Barbara Bush are wonderful role models for families.” Does that mean the Clintons are not? “You said that.” But there must be some implied contrast in the political use of the Bush family. At this point several policy differences, not personal ones, would be addressed—e.g., that Hillary “believes that 12-year-olds should have a right to sue their parents,” or that Bill refuses parents the choice of private or public school (tax financed). But the usefulness of “family values,” a term tested in focus groups before its elevation to the convention’s central theme, is that it acts as a kind of Rorschach blot in which voters can read whatever might disturb them in Clinton’s southern, baby-boomer, “slick” personality. The other key term, reported endlessly by the mood-inducers of the party, was “trust.” There is something devious or dark in the other guy—that was the suggestion in all the invocations of trust as Bush was firmly planted in the nest of Barbara and their numerous grandchildren.

The President claimed that he had ruled out the personal life of candidates as appropriate campaign matter. But that was just the Good Cop talking. Bad Cops were everywhere, bringing up “skirt-chasing” and pot-smoking and “draft-dodging.” When these remarks were called to the President’s attention, he replied that he cannot control what everyone says. (If he cannot control his comparatively small campaign organization how can he control his much larger administration?) The result was a kind of tag-team round of insults, half-apologies, and further insults folded into the apologies.

Bush’s “hit team” on family values was, paradoxically, a pair of unmarried women in their thirties—campaign staffers Mary Matalin and Torie (for Victoria) Clarke. At a time when Phyllis Schlafly was denouncing the movie Thelma and Louise as an example of “suicidal feminism,” Matalin and Clarke were vying for the role of Thelma (“We each want to be the one with the gun”). After Matalin sent reporters an abusive fax, the President said she should apologize. She wrote what was an apology to her from anyone who might have “misread” her, and Bush hugged her warmly at their next public encounter. The “family values” team has perfected a series of hints and winks and feigned wrist-slappings that allows it always to be pushing forward accusations even as they pretend to be taking them back.

This applies not only to Bad Cops like Matalin and Clarke but to the Supreme Good Cop herself, Barbara Bush. While deploring anything “personal,” she was careful to say that, in her husband’s case, the personal attacks are lies. Does that mean they are true in Clinton’s case, she was asked. “He never denied he had a fling, did he?” When she said the Republicans had been more vilified personally than the Democrats, she was reminded that Hillary Clinton had repeatedly been assailed though no one had attacked her (Barbara): “Well, wait’ll I do something to be attacked [on].” Her expert needling reveals the Barbara remembered by her schoolmates as choosing “designated victims” to be given the silent treatment: “We’re not going to speak to June this morning.”6

The peek-a-boo gamesmanship of the “character-issue” campaign is supposed to be a low intensity war carried on by the less visible parts of the Republican apparatus. That leaves the President on the high road, denouncing “sleaze.” But he has a hard time staying there. He likes teasing, practical jokes, and trivial one-upmanship, as Time’s White House reporters Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame show in their new book, Marching in Place. An astounding amount of the President’s time has been taken up with frivolous competitive games involving exploding golf balls, voice-activated monkey dolls, and a game called “Light-er-up.” The latter is played with local bigwigs who want to get the President’s ear when he visits their town. Seated in the jump seat, the local official is made the score-keeper in this presidential pursuit:

As the limo moved through the streets, Bush would pick out someone from the crowd, usually an attractive woman or child, point, and wait until—pow!—eye contact, and the victim realizes, He’s looking at me! That’s when the target “lit up.” Because the limo was moving forward, it fell to the guest facing aft to report to the president when he asked, “Did I get her? Did I light her up?” And then the game would begin again.7

There is a not-very-secret relish at the top of the campaign for “dirty tricks” officially deplored at the bottom. When, for instance, a gang of organized team cheerleaders from the convention heard that Democratic leader Ron Brown was showing some new Clinton ads at a Houston restaurant, several hundred went there to disrupt the meeting. They pounded on the glassed-in porch, drowning out Brown’s words and film, saying Democrats had no right to speak in Houston this week (“They came to our turf, that’s what they get”). Though the convention chairman Rich Bond made a perfunctory apology, a co-chair of the Republican National Committee went to the youths’ gathering place to thank them for taking on the other side’s rally. “We’re really proud of you.” Other defenders of family values trailed reporter Nina Totenberg around the convention floor taunting, “Nina! Nina! Have you had an affair?” They mistook her for CNN’s Mary Tillotson, who had asked President Bush about an alleged affair.8 “Family values” promises to be a weapon of increasingly punitive fury after this convention, as the godly “take back” their country, block by block.

Thursday: Religion

Some Republicans do not want George Bush to remain above the fray. They believe he is most effective when trapped, when forced to fight against what he considers unfair treatment.9 Only when Roger Ailes is applying a cattle prod to his posterior does Bush seem to acquire a focus for his dragonflying attention, gestures, and syntax. So, in the acceptance speech on which so many had labored so long, Bush risked the danger of looking “unpresidential” by engaging in a series of jokey insults directed at his foe. The normal wisdom is that a sitting president should notice his opponent as little as possible, maintaining a “stature gap.” But that may have been unrealistic when the president had fallen as far and as fast as Bush. It looks as if you are out of touch with reality if you do not address the person already ahead of you on the track.

But another school of Bush observers, including his old friend from UN days, Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, thinks Bush becomes strident and unattractive when using his office to ridicule others. It can be argued, of course, that the Ailes approach worked in 1988—in New Hampshire, by the savaging of Bob Dole; in the TV appearance with Dan Rather; and in the vilifying of Michael Dukakis. But Bush was not president then; he had an image of undue servility (the wimp thing) from his vice-presidential days; and the anger was not so clearly choreographed. The bitterness may not work again—though it has clearly not been abandoned.

One argument for Leach’s view is that Bush does his sneering so badly, as if not entirely comfortable with it. Half his insults in the acceptance speech were fluffed, garbled, or misread. On the Gulf War his writers had him saying, “I bit the bullet, while he bit—his nails.” At the convention he mumbled, “I-bit-the-bullet…” Cracks at Clinton’s blow-dried hair and appearance in jogging shorts deserved a diffident delivery. When Bush said he vetoes fast the crowd broke into applause, leaving it mystified when he plodded on after the interruption with an anticlimactic “faster than copies of Millie’s book sold.” Mysterious “jokes” left the crowd as puzzled as the man delivering them: “If he gets his way, hardware stores across America will have a new sign up, ‘Closed for Despair.’ ”

Those snarls were supposed to show that the President is tough. But twenty-four of them scattered through fifty-eight minutes helped give an episodic, distracted note to a speech that lacked an overall theme and any striking phrase of a nonjokey kind. The attempt to come up with something new for the economy produced gestures (he will lecture incoming congresspeople next year), gimmicks (a 10 percent tax checkoff to reduce the deficit if Congress will reduce spending—why not just reduce spending?), evasions (a spending cap with its components unspecified). Bush had to placate his supply-siders by promising some tax cut, yet keep it so vague and conditional as not to upset a Wall Street worried about the deficit. Insults were a needed diversion, given the assignment.

But there was another note, put at the climax, that fit with the family values theme—religion. As many reporters noted, God was the favorite delegate at this convention. In one of the speech’s two passages on his war service (meant to contrast with Clinton’s evasion of Vietnam), Bush told us how, on the submarine that picked him up, “God introduces you to yourself.”

Bush had begun this day at a huge religious service telling the same story, how he received “God’s therapy” on that submarine. “I believe with all my heart that one cannot be President without a belief in God.” This was the third large religious meeting during the convention; and the other two had emphasized that the Democrats omitted God from their platform. Pat Robertson and Pat Boone conducted the first rally, with all the Quayles in attendance. No one in the administration could afford to take offense at the fact that Robertson called the President’s New World Order a scheme of Satan for rallying a godless UN to fight the imminent battle of Armageddon.10 The man who makes these bizarre arguments addressed the convention, sat in the presidential box, received the bows and support of Dan and Marilyn. Congressman Leach, who went down to defeat before Robertson’s forces in the platform battles, thinks Robertson is going to be the surprise of the next convention, in 1996, since his followers have been strategically placing themselves in state organizations. The disciplined right makes hard demands on Republicans who seek its favor. The Southern Baptist Convention actually, disinvited the President from speaking to its annual meeting after he admitted gays into the White House for the signing of the “Hate Crimes” bill in 1990.

Dan Quayle, whose own ‘parents have long admired the apocalyptic fantasies of Houston’s preacher, Robert Thieme, makes a natural ally for all the Pats so prominent at this convention (Buchanan and Robertson and Boone), as he proved in his acceptance speech Thursday night. If Bush was the Good Cop of Religion, meditating on watch as his submarine slid through a God-filled night, Quayle was the Lord’s warrior standing up to the forces of evil. His use of “our” echoed, on this closing night, Buchanan’s use of the word on the convention’s opening night:

I know my critics wish I were not standing here tonight. They don’t like our values. They look down on our beliefs. They’re afraid of our ideas. And they know the American people stand on our side. And that’s why, when someone confronts them and challenges them, they will stop at nothing to destroy him. And I say to them: You have failed. I stand before you, and before the American people—unbowed, unbroken, and ready to keep fighting for our beliefs.

Who are these people trying to destroy Dan Quayle? Is it the plurality of the American people who think him unqualified to serve as president? Well, if so, that is only because the evil media have poisoned the minds of so many victims. On that reading, even his critics are united with him—or will be when the media’s power over their minds is broken. Opposition to the press, omnipresent in Houston, was at its most feverish in the religious gatherings. On Tuesday, at the rally Quayle attended, the loudest shouts occurred when the crowd turned to the TV cameras in the back of the room and shouted, over and over, “Tell the Truth!”

Marilyn Quayle played the Bad Cop to Barbara Bush’s Good Cop on religious family night. She presented homemaking as a vengeful act, one that infuriates liberals, who are “disappointed because most women do not wish to be liberated from their essential natures as women.” These liberals oppose Dan Quayle—and oppose God. They oppose Marilyn—and oppose the family. They oppose George Bush—and support pornography. These diabolical sorts are not affected by elections alone—otherwise, twelve years of Republican possession of the White House would, presumably, have dented their enormous power to brainwash the American people. More direct action is needed to “take back” the country—not merely the White House.

So this party, supposedly critical of governmental power, needs to launch more direct programs. As Ms. Quayle said in her speech: “Our generation’s social revolution taught us that family life needs protection. Our laws, policies, and society as a whole, must support families.” It is not enough to deny people NEA grants. The government must censor what Buchanan’s speech called “the raw sewage of pornography that pollutes our popular culture.” It must keep homosexuals in a legally unprotected condition. It must rid television news of the godless liberalism that attacks “the essential nature of women.” It must keep women from deciding what to do with their own bodies. It must return prayer to schools, and tax money to religious schools.

This is a program for extensive government activity, as any “cultural war” waged by politics must be. It is ironic that Buchanan adopted that term, first used of Bismarck’s state campaign against Catholicism. Bismarck outlawed the Jesuit order (Buchanan’s old teachers); he took the power to marry and educate from religious groups and gave it to the state. Buchanan wants to reverse that process in a kind of Anti-Kulturkampf; only the state can undo what the state did.

This is less an emergency measure than it looks. Republicans have for a long time fooled others and fooled themselves with the claim that they are the party that wants “less government.” Of course, they want plenty of government for some things—the military, or the regulation of TV and lawyers. They oppose governmental action against pollution of the atmosphere, but they want to police the “pollution” of minds by pornography. They say that Democrats favor “special interests” (like teachers)—while they coddle their own special-interest groups (like doctors). In this way, the question is not how much government, but where one uses government.

Yet the Republican attitude toward government goes beyond these differences in emphasis. How is it possible for people who have an authoritarian view of society in general to be effectively anti-authoritarian in politics? The right wing loves authority figures—generals, policemen, J. Edgar Hoover. Their view of the family is patriarchal. The lead actor from the TV series Major Dad was chosen to introduce Marilyn Quayle on “family night.” This series is the opposite of Murphy Brown. The dad in question brings military organization into the family—much as “Colonel” Robert Thieme, the favored Quayle family preacher, wears his army uniform into the pulpit. The Republicans’ hysterical distortion of Hillary Clinton’s claim that abused children should have legal recourse comes from a view that the father’s rule is absolute. Many Christian schools require parental agreement to paddling, so fully is authoritarianism the culture of the right. These are people who want others to be under discipline, and who want to be under discipline themselves. They talk of the free market when that means favors to businessmen, but a free market of ideas that lets liberalism prevail in even some sectors of the national life, a free market of consumerism that results in profitable pornography, is unacceptable. Even the “feisty” Patrick Buchanan secretly took orders from J. Edgar Hoover when he was writing editorials for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.11 A “free press” is, for him, one that the FBI can control. Though never in the military himself, he glorifies the military constantly. When others went to visit the homeless and the victimized in Los Angeles after the riots, Buchanan visited the troops who “took our city back.” He did not mention in the convention speech how he chuckled at the military might; but he told the graduating students at Liberty College:

An officer of the 18th Cavalry who had come to save the city handed me a medallion. On it were inscribed the words Velox et Mortifer. After six years of studying Latin under the Jesuits, I still had to ask him what they meant. “Swift and Deadly, Mr. Buchanan,” he said, laughing. “It’s right there on the coin.” And so it was.

Though the cold war is over, Republicans have showed no willingness to dismantle the national security state reared in order to wage it—the dense network of governmental controls, secrecy, clearances, classifications, and military privilege. The censorship in the Gulf War was greater than in any preceding conflict. When Admiral Crowe expressed misgivings about conflict in the desert, Secretary of State Baker dismissed this as uninformed comment since the admiral was no longer cleared to read current secret cables. If the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is unable to be part of the decision, then you and I, obviously, ordinary citizens, cannot have an opinion on life-and-death matters of war and peace. We must submit to our betters, and attack the press if it raises doubts or resists censorship.

Authoritarian homes do not breed anti-authoritarian citizens. The cult of generals does not fuel the ethos of a republic. Even the religiosity of the right is not the conflict of God with godlessness that Houston presented to us. It is a conflict of one religious vision with another, and the free market is no more welcome where religion is concerned than where pornography is. (The term “religious pluralism” was removed from the platform as offensive to the religious right.) Buchanan celebrated the defeat of “barbarians” in the streets of Los Angeles—aliens and outsiders who do not share “our” values. Yet the African Americans he apparently had in mind are not only the most religious people in America but, according to a recent survey, the most religious people in the world.12

The Democrats were excoriated as godless in Houston, yet over 90 percent of Americans say they believe firmly in God.13 Since no Democratic ticket at the national level has won less than 10 percent of the popular vote, the Democrats must not be lacking in God but lacking in the right God. The religion of the Republicans in Houston is judgmental, punitive, and individualistic. Buchanan, in his 1988 book, called “liberal guilt” not so much a mistaken kind of religion as a nonreligion compared to our values:

To us, sin is personal, not collective; it is a matter for personal confession, personal contrition, personal reconciliation with God. Our sense of shame and sense of guilt are about what we have done ourselves, our own transgressions against our own moral code. We have no sense of guilt about Wounded Knee; because we weren’t at Wounded Knee.14

That is a strange attitude for one who claims to be an orthodox Catholic—i.e., one who believes in Original Sin. Was he at Eden when the apple was eaten? It is true that an individualist/predestinarian theology underlies much of American religious culture; but that is not, as the Houston Republicans would have it, the only religion of America. Abraham Lincoln was constantly invoked in Houston, and no one more eloquently expressed the vision of a mutually culpable and mutually forgiving “people of God” than he did.15 When he urged the whole nation to repent its historical sin of slavery, he was close to the insights of African American religion—that we ride together in the Ark (not in separate rowboats), that we cross Jordan as a people. It was not religion that was being defended in Houston, but authoritarian religion. The God of that gathering wore a uniform. These delegates would not know how to recognize Him out of it.

This Issue

September 24, 1992