The Big (Revival) Tent of the GOP

Jews love to tell each other the joke about the two Jews who were walking past a missionary center offering $10,000 to anyone who would convert to Islam. Abe turns to Sam and says, “I’m going in and converting, I need the money.”  Sam waits anxiously until Abe emerges. “So, Abe, did you get the cash?” he asks. “What is it with you people?” his friend sneers. “All you can think about is money?”

Everyone knows that converts to any discipline become its most earnest practitioners. Acolytes echo lightly, but proselytes proudly see the light. The born-intos find it borin’ while the born-agains are borne on waves of inspiration. In fact, the Talmud says that people find converts abrasive, and the 12th Century Tosafist commentary explains why: they put pressure on everyone by demanding a high standard of performance. Ergo, says Homnick’s First Law of Thermodynamic Politics, the party with the most converts wins.

This explains how the Democrats gained their stranglehold on Congress in the ’60s. A pink-cheeked generation of innocents came to college believing that father knows best, if only because he and his buddies had soured the Krauts and zapped the Japs. There they were greeted by hep hipsters who set them straight. Dad was an oppressor. He had firebombed innocents in Dresden and irradiated civilians in Hiroshima. His prosperity was founded in thievery, his starchy dignity was just an unhealthy inhibition, and his moral code was at best hypocrisy and at worst a conspiracy by which the establishment insured the docility of the masses.

Intoxicated by this deliciously contrary view, plus a few intoxicants, and narcotized by the vision of free love and world peace, plus a few narcotics, they lined up en masse to convert. But when the smoke cleared, when the Panthers went back to the hills and the weathermen to the 11 o’clock news, when free love became too expensive and drugs became too cheap, the name of the church they had converted into turned out to be the Democratic Party.

As novices in this new order, they thought it no vice to attack the powers that were. Hillary Rodham famously turned her Wellesley valediction in 1969 into a malediction against (black) Republican Sen. Edward Brooke. These flaming converts won Congress for three decades, the academic world and the news media. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.

End they have. For some the crossing point was RR. Reagan stood up and suddenly we heard a man who could think clearer than Lenin and speak clearer than Lennon. He explained that government was the problem and freedom was the solution, which really resonated: after all, we had told the cops the same thing when we were demonstrating in Chicago in 1968 and they were beating us senseless. He would stand up to those fool Russians where angels feared to tread. And we could work with the pride of lions to reconstitute our Constitution which had been gnawed down by weasels.

Others needed Limbaugh and the talking mouths of radio. Music had gone south anyway, so why not listen to Ollie North?  Always fun hearing those radio Mikes, Reagan and Medved, amplifying the issues. And the Lauras, Doctor and Esquire. Most youthful of all, Larry Elder. Not to mention the callers, guys and gals like you and me, hearty in the heartland and down home on a range of matters.

The last to go were the innocents, in no sense prepared for Clinton and his monkeyshines. We had fanned the flame of our youthful outrage when Nixon lost the tape in the rosemary woods. But all that was just water under the gate compared to the folks who didn’t know who hired Craig Livingstone or who fired the travel office. Didn’t recall how they lost money in the past or made money on futures, and finally tried to reteach us the meaning of … er, foreign relations. We decided that enough is more than enough and we stood up to bear witness to what “is” is: “I is not a Democrat!”

We grew up. We attained majority. And we tossed the affectations and pretensions, the illusions and delusions of our youth. Sowing our wild oats was fine until we fell into the trough. We got jobs and lives and kids and somehow all that added up to a politics of reality drastically unlike that professed by our professors. We recreated our worlds and there’s no going back. There was darkness and then there was light; I think we’ll call it a day.