“You want to go see Bo Gritz burn the U.N. flag?” My libertarian neighbor Bill, during the final days of the last presidential campaign, was making me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I have always been half-frustrated by mv failure to take advantage of all those radical activities in my college days during the 60’s. This looked like a great opportunity to make up for lost time.
On the way down, Bill filled me in on the details. Bo Gritz was running for President of the United States and speaking at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, the flagship—or at least the most combative—fundamentalist church in Indianapolis. The church was hosting a conference of the American Coalition of Unregistered Churches, a group of congregations that refuses to register with the IRS in order to avoid governmental control of religion.
Bo Gritz, in case you don’t know him, is a lieutenant colonel and former Green Beret. He led an unsuccessful MIA rescue mission into Southeast Asia and helped negotiate the surrender of survivalist Randall Weaver to the various forces that had surrounded his home. According to Bo, he speaks Chinese and Swahili, so he’s no dummy. He’s no coward either. He claims that the Justice and State departments told him he would spend 15 years in jail if he did not forget what he knew about government drug-trafficking in Burma. He didn’t and was tried, but acquitted.
After Bill and I arrived, we walked past Bo’s “campaign headquarters,” a trailer with a lot of flags. I was encouraged. After all, a low-budget campaign probably augured a low-budget government. Since I am not a fundamentalist and since we were late, I was rather nervous, but the atmosphere was relaxed. There were children and parents milling freely around the entrance and even in the auditorium. Here at least were people for whom the phrase family values undoubtedly held some meaning.
Candidate Gritz had already begun his speech. I was immediately impressed by the high level of discourse at this political rally. Of course, candidate Gritz had his share of cliches. “America is a great Christian nation.” “Let’s take America back.” Best of all was his campaign symbol—a plunger to be used for the removal of federal bureaucratic waste. The audience, which consisted mainly of apparently lower-middle-class and not highly educated church-goers, seemed to follow all of this with a good deal of enthusiasm and interest. It made me realize how pathetically inept and uninformative are our contemporary political speeches. Surely the impatience of television is the major problem. As if to prove my point, the TV cameras never entered the church to cover the speech, but waited outside to take a picture of the flag-burning, the media event.
I was also confirmed in my belief that Republican “moderates” are out of touch with the interests of Middle Americans. Particularly striking was the fact that Bo’s strongest attacks were made on the very accomplishments of which Republicans have been most proud. Mentioning the “great victory” of the Persian Gulf War, Bo promised that he will not send troops overseas but will fight for everything within the boundaries of the United States. Bo Gritz, to some of the loudest applause of the afternoon, spoke of “world tyranny” and a “Luciferian system.” To the hisses of the audience, he quoted from Republican speeches advocating the use of U.N. troops as “preventative peacekeeping forces” to maintain internal order in all nations and pledging allegiance to the “sacred U.N, charter.” He then called for our withdrawal from the UN. Bo’s speech comes to mind while I watch our U.N.-controlled soldiers return home in body bags from our “humanitarian” mission in Somalia.
Regarding “free trade” pacts like NAFTA, he says he is for fair trade because “free trade means America on her knees licking the foreign hand that feeds it.” He wants an America that is self-reliant and not dependent on foreign trade. (I had a few misgivings at this point. Does this mean I have to drink only California wines? I decided, however, not to raise the question in a Baptist church.) He stated that “communism and free enterprise are belly up” and, with some not so gentle swipes at David Rockefeller, that what we have in America is “corporate fascism.” In contrast to my experience of the 60’s, Bo did not mean to use the word fascist as a swear word for anyone to the right of the SDS; rather, he was attempting to use it in a manner somewhat equivalent to its original sense, to describe our present system of collusion between the government and multinational corporations to promote their respective monopolies.
These negative reactions to Republican policies in international politics and economics represent a crucial value in most Middle Americans’ lives, which Republican moderates seem only to have the vaguest notion of and apparently no tolerance for. Middle Americans are nationalistic or, perhaps better put, patriotic. When Bo Gritz suggested that we not send any troops overseas, but rather sell weapons to foreign countries, the man seated next to me laughed and said, “Yeah, and then they can use them to kill each other.” While I do not think that most Middle Americans would go so far, and while I think my Christian brother would find his sentiment hard to justify in the light of the faith, it seems clear to me that most of us in these parts are concerned first with what is best for our country and are strongly suspicious of all these foreign endeavors by our government. People generally want to help, but not at the cost of our national sovereignty or economic health.
Our native patriotism and even our desire to help can and have been used by the federal government to draw us into international conflicts. Most people’s support here of the Persian Gulf War was due not to their commitment to the New World Order, but rather to patriotic pride in our nation’s military, just as much of the support for the Vietnam War was a patriotic reaction to leftist criticism of everything American. One hopes that American citizens will grow more suspicious of this renewed internationalism and interventionism. Perhaps when they see that it is actually being used to maintain a large government bureaucracy in the post-Cold War era and not really to act on private Americans’ charitable concern for other human beings, they will bring it to a halt.
Republicans have long dominated presidential elections, but now that the Democrats have captured Washington, there is bound to be some reexamination of this notion. Indeed the current infighting seems to suggest that the scapegoat will be the true conservative wing of the party, especially the religious right, and that there will be a move toward the “center.” The so-called moderates will attempt, as they did at the 1992 Republican Convention, to get rid of the antiabortion plank of the platform. If they succeed, it will mean that the Republican Party will have been reduced for the foreseeable future to a minority party.
What the moderates seem to have forgotten is that Roe v. Wade brought fundamentalist and evangelical Christians into the political process, often for the first time. Ronald Reagan’s support of them on the abortion issue and on many others made them one of the Republican Party’s strongest blocs of support. It is clear that Bush was elected because he was seen, albeit illegitimately, as a successor to Reagan’s views. Pat Robertson recently said that 50 percent of born-again Christians eligible to vote went for Clinton. Of course, the economy was an issue, but it was not just that. At the Baptist Temple it was clear that these people, who in all likelihood voted for Reagan, were completely alienated from the Republican Party. Indeed, in my conversations before the election I met with no one who was a strong supporter of Bush, only people who did not want to vote for Clinton or Perot. The reason for this lack of support was that George Bush never understood “the vision thing.” The Scriptures say that for want of a vision the people will perish. It is clear that a political party will perish, too.
After we had all assembled outside, candidate Gritz, along with several ministers and even more obscure presidential candidates, set fire to the U.N. flag. While it was burning, we all sang “God Save America” and offered up a prayer for our nation. I hope that what symbolically went up in smoke that day was not the grand vision of the failed Reagan Revolution, perhaps the last attempt to return this country to a set of principles that are recognizably American.