The Intimate GOP

IT WAS JUST TEN DAYS after the close of the Republican convention, and here I was at a much smaller gathering of Republicans at Fairview Farms in Plano, just north of Dallas. Proclaimed a “Boot Scootin’ Olde Tyme Political Hoe-Down,” this campaign kickoff was also, of course, a “family event” and, sure enough, families came. The younger kids were adorable with scrubbed faces and crisp little dresses or spotless shirts, and the eighth graders and high school freshmen were predictably remote and bored. There were horseshoes and hayrides for free and pony rides for a dollar. On a covered stage before about twenty picnic tables, the Dallas Tap Dazzlers dazzled. Then the Prairie Fire Cloggers clogged. And then the Texas Legacy Band, three expressionless gentlemen in jeans, boots, and white hats, sang on and on even though they were completely ignored. Was it their private revenge or simple obtuseness that had them sing, in this company, a song whose lyrics went: “Make love not war. / What are we fighting for? / No need to fuss and scrap. / Come on, baby, sit on my lap.” At the back of the stage a United States ßag and a Texas ßag ßanked a large photograph of George Bush, which on second glance turned out to be a younger George Bush. It was a relic from the 1980 campaign that someone had kept around for twelve years.

Waiting for the speeches that would be the climax of the afternoon, I wandered among booths behind the stage. The Republican faithful were selling polyester elephant ties for $20, elephant scarves, elephant buttons, elephant sweaters for $80, coffee mugs in the shape of elephants for $15 a pair, and, to my great relief and that of many others, excellent margaritas for $4. In a short-sleeved knit shirt and khaki pants, I was dressed interchangeably with the majority of the men there, and their families bore no sharp distinction from my own. I felt an uncomfortable but unavoidable self-recognition, not unlike the one I felt while watching the Republican National Convention. It had produced in me an orgy of personal evaluation. As the convention speakers droned away, I took stock. I have a family; I have a house with a mortgage; I am putting away money for the future because I want my kids to go to college and because I don’t want to have to eat dog food when I’m seventy. I want the money I’m putting aside to maintain its value; thus, I hope for social continuity and order. I believe in a market economy and think it solves many more problems than it creates. I also think that the cost of government burdens the economy needlessly. And I play golf.

This personal inventory made me sound to myself like a Republican. Yet I had felt alienated from what I saw at the convention. The hallucinations of Pat Robinson, the scolding of Marilyn Quayle, the bitterness of Pat Buchanan—what did any of that have to do with my personal hopes, beliefs, and worries? I considered myself quite ready to take the traditional Republican bait if only it were cast in my direction. But it never appeared. Worse, the tone of the convention was often so combative and self-righteous that the clear message became: If you’re not one of us, we don’t want you.

If the convention showed anything, it was the triumph of the social conservatives—whose interests are in issues of personal behavior, such as abortion, school prayer, and homosexuality—over the economic and philosophical conservatives—whose interests are in fiscal policy, the free market economy, and decreasing the size and power of government. Economic conservatives are the traditional core of the Republican party. Social conservatives, essentially the religious right, have worked with great determination and diligence to gain control over the party apparatus in much the same way that fundamentalists took over the Baptist church from the moderates. The reason for the social conservatives’ success was that they wanted to win more than their opponents did. A former Republican officeholder told me that with the Republicans in the White House for the past twelve years, economic conservatives had gotten lazy and let the party get taken from them. A prominent Republican consultant wondered, “Do people who are interested in economic success want that in a gut way as much as the religious right wants to win on their agenda? They are well focused and well disciplined, and I don’t see them back-ing off.”

The purpose of the convention was to secure what has become the national Republican base, which is why the message was directed at social conservatives rather than economic conservatives. But the message that afternoon in Plano was different. While its focus was necessarily local, the boot scootin’ political hoe-down was far less inßamed and far more levelheaded than what I had heard at the convention. When Fred Meyer, the chairman of the Republican party of Texas, began the speeches, he couldn’t resist indulging in some mild press bashing—“In this election we have to take on the Democrats and the media too. … But regardless of what you see on the network news, Republicans are going to win a great victory in November.” Otherwise, he enthusiastically described what he called the chance of a lifetime for Texas Republicans. They hope to become a majority on the Texas Supreme Court through victories by Craig Enoch over Oscar Mauzy (whose name prompted passionate booing—the strongest emotion of the afternoon) and by John Montgomery over Jack Hightower. They hope to become a majority in the state Senate by going from the current nine to sixteen senators. And they think that they could pick up some more congressional seats because of the anti-incumbency mood in the country.

Jim Oberwetter, the Texas chairman of the Bush-Quayle campaign, said simply that Texas will go for Bush because he is the one saying that government is too big and costs too much. Oberwetter insisted that “Bush will increase jobs while Clinton will decrease them.” Both

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