MOLLY IVINS The Christian Right Arrives Austin Halfway through the state Republican convention, observers were still asking, “So where’s the Hezbollah?” A fine display of unity, harmony, amity and charity toward almost all \(Dolly Madison McKenna, a prochoice candidate for party chair, was booedbut then, Texas Republicans have was taking place before the bored eyes of onlookers, when suddenly, they surfaced. The much advertised, now dominant Christian right breached like a whale, and I ‘for one was left gasping, “Lord, have mercy!” What touched them off was a preamble actually a sort of long resolution in the form of a preface to the rulesurging civility in the conduct of party affairs. If I had room to print the whole thing, I would, just so you could see what these people voted against. The preamble spoke of the need for “agreeing to disagree” on some issues; urged Republicans not to attack one another, especially in the media”it is not acceptable to vilify, impugn motives, or otherwise attack the basic positive character of fellow Republicans”; deplored negative campaigning; and urged support of all Republican candidates against all Democrats. The key paragraphs were both in the negative. One said, “The Republican Party is not a church” and the other said, “The Republican Party is not a social club,” thus summing up the nub of the disagreement among Republicans. “It is inappropriate to require a certain type of religious expression for leaders, candidates, delegates. Many people who hold identical positions and values will have different religious expressions and those of similar religious expressions often have differing political views. A Republican should never be put in the position of having to defend or explain his faith in order to participate in the Party process.” The “not a social club” part endorses discussion of values and of government as a means of implementing values but notes, “It is entirely appropriate for a group with views not currently expressed in the Party platform to seek to persuade a new majority to change the Platform, and it is appropriate for others to seek to keep it the same.” All in all, a more self-evident set of bro Molly Ivins, a former Observer editor, is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. mides about fair play and working with oth ers you never heard. All hell broke loose. Colleen Parro of Dallas, for whom the word overwrought is an understatement, denounced the preamble as ploy of country-club Republicans, said it used some of the very words uttered by McKenna and, finally, was full of “Democratic” sentiments. “Are we Democrats or are we Republicans?” she cried. Whereupon great roars issued forth more like lions than Christians. After two rafter-shattering voice votes, John Mauldin, the delegate who had introduced the fairplay preamble, finally withdrew his own motion. Although on its face the vote against the preamble was utterly incredible, its defeat was a reflection of both the Christian right’s takeover of the party and the resentment that their tactics have engendered. One delegate, Robert Johnson, spoke for the preamble, saying his wife, a third-generation Republican, was not present “because she no longer feels there is a place for her in this party.” Behind the preamble lie dozens of stories, incidents and outbreaks of hostility. One delegate in a “Pro-choice” T shirt was surrounded Saturday by self-professed Christians screaming “Satanist!” at her. Another said she was physically assaulted by them at her district convention. A delegate who is also an American Airlines flight attendant, badly shaken by the vote on the preamble, said, “You know, people have often asked me why a member of a labor union would be a Republican, and I always thought I had a good answer. But not after this. This is my last hurrah in the Republican Party, I’m getting out.” Various options were discussed; the Libertarian Party, on the whole, seemed to have the edge over Democrats among those who announced that they were leaving. Now, no sizable group of folks, including those who believe in biblical inen -ancy, is ever all alike. One affable fellow in the Smokers’ Caucus \(we meet outside now and find fellowship in our nicotine addic”You know, I didn’t know until I read it in the papers that I was part of the ‘radical Christian right.’ I thought I was just an engineer who’s a member of the Missouri Lutheran Synod.” From the other side, it is equally astonishing to be greeted with “You may not want to talk to me, I’m a Christian.” Since these so addressed have been under the impression all their lives that they, too, are Christians, this is disorienting and, indeed, rather offensive. Many on the right and many who disagree with them had perfectly civil discussions; one mixed group even got crocked together Saturday night. The ugly scenes are provoked when a moral condescension meets a certain independence. One lay preacher made the mistake of putting his hands on the shoulders and then the head of a citizen whom he considered a soul-inperil. “Look, @%&@ !,” snarled the man, who was not prepared to be “saved” by a moralizing stranger, “I’m a seventh-generation Texan and a 14th-generation Presbyterian, and you take your @%&@ ! hands off me!” What is under-reported is the pure populist spirit of much of the Christian right, reflected in the rhetoric about “countryclub Republicans.” It is as though the old class split in the Republican Partysymbolized by the women who look like Nancy Reagan and by those whom a Nancy once called “a bunch of women named Wanda”had been altered by religious certitude. Now the “women named Wanda” arrive armored with an invincible sense of moral superiority, which is no-end galling to the country-clubbers \(as it is to many old-time Republicans who have never beOn the whole, I am glad to see the right getting involved in politics, and I’ll be even gladder when they learn to play by the rules. And I still think the Democrats were lucky to get the bikers. Politics and Passion “So, Bill,” says I to my old pal Murchison of the Dallas Morning News in the middle of the Republican convention, “what do you think of the Christian right?” This was just after the Christian right had defeated a resolution encouraging civility. “Oh, I think they bring passion to politics, and that’s not a bad thing,” said Murchison, one of the most personally decent right-wing nuts in America. “The party could use a little passion.” I’ve always been in favor of zip and idealism in politics, as opposed to the deadly little apparatchiks who think politics is about winning, period. But we need to think about what George Bush might call “the passion thing.” There were a lot of passionate people at the convention in Fort Worth last weekend who may yet give fanaticism a bad name. Remember when Barry Goldwater said that 8 JULY 1, 1994
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