On southbound Interstate 25, midway between Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado, there’s a rest stop. It offers the usual accoutrements to weary travelers; public restrooms, vending machines, various brochures offering information about the appeals of Colorful Colorado, a dog-walking trail, and several picnic tables if someone wants to sit down and eat a meal amidst the smell of gasoline and diesel fumes. Walk past the picnic tables and down a little ravine, and one enters a small forest of trees; mostly Douglas firs, with their long needles and softball-sized pine cones. About fifty yards into this little grove of trees, one actually manages to feel like one has stepped away from civilization. There’s no stench of internal combustion engines mingled with overflowing trash cans and septic tanks, no roar of cars and trucks and semis racing by, no reminders that the latest housing developments still have units available, or that yet another Starbucks, McDonalds, or KFC franchise is only a few miles away.
He has me meet him there, in the trees, in the silence, with the only potential witnesses being chipmunks and magpies. One night I spied a small, scrawny coyote giving me the once-over as I made my way to the rendezvous point, but once he determined I was apparently not a threat to him, he shrugged his shoulders and opted not to get involved, trotting quietly into the darkness.
I met him first in college; he was the sort-of boyfriend of a lovely lady named Renee that I was trying to seduce, and we shared a ride to a political rally at which then-President Ronald Reagan was speaking on behalf of the Republican senatorial candidate. I was there to heckle, he was there to bask in the Gippers glory. Despite our deep and numerous political differences, we managed to establish a tolerable friendship.
Over the years, weve stayed in touch. I find him a valuable source of information into the thinking of those Ive dubbed the Holy Terrors, the ultra-fundamentalist, neo-conservative born-again Christian bloc that so profoundly influences the far-right wing of the American political spectrum. He works for one of the Holy Terrors most powerful lobbying groups, based in Colorado Springs. I can’t get into details for fear of jeopardizing his job, not to mention a useful source of information for myself. Suffice it to say, if we were to play the old “Six Degrees Of Separation” game, where a person could say, “I know X who knows Y who knows Z” and thus establish a chain of personal contacts to virtually anyone in the world, my friend can honestly connect himself to President George W. Bush with only two such links.
I call him, “The Missionary.” He thinks its because he’s trying to help me see the errors of my ways and to hopefully convert me to his way of thinking. For some reason, my friend seems to think my soul is not yet beyond redemption. That’s why he’s giving me all this inside information about what’s going on behind the curtain. Actually, I call him “The Missionary” as a sort of tribute to the secret source that Deep Throat was to Woodward and Bernstein, as well as a dig at the fact that The Missionary is so rigidly conservative about sexual attitudes and mores that his now-wife (the aforementioned Renee) once told me he doesn’t even remove his underwear to make love to her. He just unbuttons the fly, withdraws his penis, does his spousal duty, bundles up his package and rolls over and goes to sleep.
Don’t ask me how Renee came to tell me all that. It’s a long story.
But I digress.
The Missionary calls me every once in a while to let me know what’s going on behind the scenes at Command Central of the Holy Terrors’ headquarters. Like I said, he’s warning me for my own good. He had me meet him last month at our usual rendezvous point on the far side of the ridge behind the rest stop, in a small clearing in the forest of Douglas fir trees. As usual, it was in the middle of the night.
His mood seemed unusually cheerful in light of the political climate, and I told him so. I said, “Why are you smiling? Obamas leading McCain in all the Presidential polls, the Democrats expect to pick up a bundle of seats in Congress, not to mention in most of the statewide races, and Californias not only legalized gay marriage, but its Republican governor and most of the population endorses the decision. You’re standing next to Custer as he says, ‘I never seen so damn many Indians in my life,’ buddy. What’s got you grinning from ear to ear?”
The Missionary said, “No matter how many lesser victories you liberals think you might win, the only one that really counts is the Presidency. That’s the office that sets the agenda. That’s the one that dictates the nations direction, that’s the one that appoints the judges and the justices of the Supreme Court. And that’s the one we’re going to win. McCain’s going to take the White House.”
I said, “You’re kidding, right? John McCains got to be the weakest Presidential candidate since William Jennings Bryan ran against Teddy Roosevelt in 1904. He’s flip-flopped on every issue under the sun, he can’t keep his geography straight, he’s trying to paint himself as a maverick while at the same time he’s planning to continue Dubya’s policies so much his campaign slogan might as well be, ‘Four more years.’ What makes you think he’s going to appeal to more voters than Obama?”
The Missionary said, “Just you wait. McCain’s going to have all the Evangelicals, the ones you contemptuously dub the ‘Holy Terrors’ battering down the doors of the polling places to vote for him. He’s our type of guy. Geographical facts and flexibility on issues won’t matter. He’s got the moral fortitude necessary to be President.”
I said, “You’re kidding, right? McCain’s the worst sort of opportunist. As for his moral fortitude, haven’t you heard about his first wife, Carol? While this guy was in a Vietnamese prison camp, his then-wife Carol was in a car crash that almost killed her. She had to undergo so many operations that when he got home, she was five inches shorter than when hed left, and she looked like a different woman. So what did John McCain do with the wife who’d stood by him while he was in a P.O.W. camp? He admitted cheating on her, and then divorcing her after he met his second wife, Cindy, the beer heiress. That’s someone with moral fortitude?”
The Missionary said, “You don’t understand. McCain’s going to win over all those Democrats who were supporting Hillary Clinton. They’re going to abandon Barack Obama and vote for McCain instead.”
I said, “You’re kidding, right? Why would anyone who thinks a woman could be President think John McCain’s an acceptable substitute? Hillary Clinton’s pro-choice. McCain wants to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would repeal Roe v. Wade. He’s tried to cut funding for comprehensive sex education, equal pay legislation and birth control and last year he admitted to a reporter that he had no idea whether condoms prevented the spread of the HIV-AIDS virus. Worse yet, in public he once called his wife a cunt. Tha’ts the sort of man that appeals to Clinton voters?”
The Missionary was still grinning. “None of that matters. Not to us. Once James Dobson gives his endorsement, it’s all over. It might be a close election, but McCain’s going to win. We have faith.” Having said his peace, The Missionary walked away, quickly disappearing into the darkness.
I drove home, puzzled all the way. When I got back to my desk, I looked up the last word The Missionary spoke to me. It had been rattling around in my brain, over and over, like the ice cubes in an otherwise empty rum-and-Coke on the rocks.
Faith, said my American Heritage Dictionary. A belief in something despite a lack of evidence to support that belief, or in spite of evidence to the contrary.
So according to the Missionary, facts and history and well-documented evidence don’t matter to the Holy Terrors. Once they’re told to have faith in John McCain, that’s the end of it. They’ll turn out in droves to elect him President.
They’re kidding, right?
“All Worked Up” © 2008 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.