I’ve been to lots of prayer meetings and revivals, starting back with Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday in the Twenties. Never been to one with a master of ceremonies. Prayer meetings were pretty quiet, solemn affairs where the pine boards or linoleum hurt your knees. It was a blessing when a preacher came to town with his own tent and sawdust. But that’s neither here nor there. What amazes me is that during a convention where not a contrite or repentant word was heard all week, the Republicans arranged to get 12,000 people to turn out for an extra-curricular political rally billed as a religious event. That took some doing. It’s pretty clear that that congregation wasn’t made up of delegates, for even if all of them had gotten up early enough to get their Alka or Bromo Seltzers down, there were only 2,235 of them. The alternate-delegates couldn’t make up the difference. Of course, there were over 12,000 journalists assigned to bear witness that the delegates did what they were preordained to do. But I find it hard to believe that all those journalists were rousted out that early to cover a prayer meeting. Not when Jesus had so much to say about Pharisees beating their breasts while praying in public. And most journalists I know are not known for being particularly worshipful on their own. The Republicans must have run in a bunch of extras, sort of surrogate prayer-makers, like when “The Ten Commandments” was put on film. Even if their number did fall thirty percent short of filling the 17,000 seat Reunion Arena, it was quite a congregation. And though it was sort of like a Hollywood production, it looked real. The realest thing about it was that the Republicans believe it was the real thing. I’m one who likes to think that the Republicans mean us well. They may be sanctimonious, but they’re not purposefully mean. For sure they believe in a strong, concerned, care-taking government same as they accuse the Democrats of. Why else would they want the government to pass laws to enable their kids to pray during school hours so as to keep the blessings flowing; why else would they want laws to preserve that which is conceived though not yet perceived; why else would they want laws to permit entrepreneurs to do their thing even if it spreads around little-bitty amounts of lead, dioxin, and other nasties? Most of all they want new laws to permit them to do what they most want to do. Even if you fault them for any of that, you have to acknowledge that they mean well. And people who mean well shouldn’t be put down just because they’ve done well while hoping to do good. Kant said it best when he said that the only evil is an evil will. No, what I fault them for is their misdirected prayers. Never once in all those “0-thankyou-Lords” did I hear mentioned the name of Neiman Marcus, Diamond Shamrock Company, the Dallas Times Herald, Newsweek, Time, Touche Ross Nestle Company or any of the Boom Boom Oil companies or the other outfits that threw all the parties. It was like thanking a god who didn’t do a blessed thing for them and ignoring the ones they give obeisance to when off-camera. That’s shabby. Shame. Republicans know how it works, but they treat it all as a blessing from heaven. Who do they think provided the shrimp, stuffed crab, and oysters Rockefeller, saying nothing about the chickenfried steaks and barbequed ribs washed down with 90-proof? They, of all people, have got to know where that largesse came from. The stinkiest little untalked-about “secret” in this country today is how corporations and persons who have incorporated themselves can bestow blessings and charge it off to Uncle Sam deduct it from income that would otherwise be taxed. Republicans know how that works. You’d think they’d have given a little prayerful thank-you to their corporate hosts and the government they in many ways revile. But, no, they treated it all as a blessing from heaven. Let me tell you about that heaven: it’s the same one that enables your neighbor down the block to drive a company car home from work with a corporate credit card in the glove box; the same one that enables them to go off to Paris, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands or Miami Beach, presumably because there’s not a place nearer to home with enough rooms for their company, union, or professional society to hold its little meetings, thus avoiding paying for a vacation. It’s the same heaven that enables some to tell you that there are no free lunches while talking with their mouths full of food put on a Diner’s Club card that doesn’t belong to them, the same heaven that enabled Reagan while governor to go one year without paying any state income tax because of his tax shelters. It’s a scandal, and Democrats can be just as bad as Republicans about milking that cow. What Willie Brown, Speaker of the Assembly in the California legislature, did at the Democratic convention was as unseemly as anything the Republicans did a $300,000 extravaganza for the whole convention down on the wharf in San Francisco. Never mind that Brown, elected to one of the highest offices in the land, might understandably want to put it on big after growing up poor and black in Mineola, Texas. Bullshit is bullshit, and fair is fair. He didn’t pay for it. I suspect lobbies did and then entered the cost on line such-and-such on corporate IRS form number so-and-so. You ever think about how the shortform 1040 wouldn’t exact so much, if we could just get those who fill out the long-form 1040 to pay taxes on what they get? Maybe we can never do that. Look how Jimmy Carter got shot down when he tried to do away with the IRS-blessed three-Martini lunch. Not just the various restaurant associations but all of corporate America, plus the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union, fell in on him. He was diminished by them long before those other religious zealots in Iran got into politics and took over our embassy. Do you ever worry about the lack of candor on something so blatant, about there being so little outrage or motivation to tidy it up? Mull on it next time you take the family up to the lake on your own time and money. You’re helping some Americans eat parsnips in Paris they don’t have to pay for. Mull on this, too: tax subsidies like that add up to many times more than all the food stamps ever given out. And when you get back from the lake, ask your pastor if he got one of those very un-ecumenical letters that Reagan’s re-election campaign sent out after that Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast to a mere 45,000 carefully screened preachers in sixteen carefully selected states asking for their help in his re-election. If not, maybe this administration doesn’t consider your pastor, priest, rabbi or guru the right sort for four more years. They might want a law. They already tried to establish one favoring the Bob Jones University, one of the fountainheads of their kind of fundamentalist zealotry. Maybe you’re in the wrong church, or simply in one of the 34 states where they don’t want to make religion an issue. Gosh almighty, wouldn’t Elmer Gantry get a boot out of all this? Gantry and Gatsby what a team! THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.