Hymn of Hate

June 10, 1994|By GARRY WILLS

Chicago -- C-SPAN made it possible to watch the recent Republican convention in Virginia, which chose the state candidates for this year's election. This show made the national Republican convention of 1992 appear like a scholarly seminar on economics. Fifteen thousand delegates -- far more than there were at the national convention -- gave us oratory and screams that made Pat Buchanan's appearance in Houston look pale.

The religious extremism in Houston is generally thought to have hurt President Bush's chances of re-election. If that is true, then the Richmond frenzy is probably a good sign for the Democrats. How can other Republicans, across the country, live with a party faction so far to the right of Marilyn Quayle?

There was something semi-secret about this monster rally, publicly broadcast though it was. Oliver North, the star of the show, had given up campaigning to appear before delegates of the right-wing faction in his own party. He was not after the electorate at large, or even the range of Republicans in Virginia. He was working the hard-core types who would give up their time to attend the Richmond meeting.

Mr. North even bought a radio station's time for the day of the convention, to seal off his people from any outside voices. He told them to bring their hand-held radios and listen to his line whenever their attention strayed from the proceedings.

What was most fascinating was the almost endless hymn of hate. These are people who claim to love their country -- the kind whose slogan used to be ''Love it or leave it.'' But they could find nothing lovable about the nation they heard described in apocalyptic terms. Congress and the courts are vile, and the president viler, and even most of the churches are soiled. Hate, grievance and loathing were the only attitudes acceptable when mentioning these squalid institutions, the central ones of our society. And viler even than they are the media and the conduits of cultural entertainment -- music, drama, literature.

Vast conspiracies operate shamelessly to steal good Americans' children from them, pervert their values, corrupt their souls. Teachers are in on the conspiracy; so are schools, the education ''establishment,'' the governments (federal and local) that support the schools. Children must be educated at home to protect them from the circumambient evil. Perhaps the children, too, will end up hearing their parents' hired time on radios, drumming out the despised alternative voices.

Mr. North himself said he was going to storm Capitol Hill, seize it from the enemy, conduct his own D-Day landing in the District of Columbia. How, precisely, would he undo all the evil done by the other 99 senators? He said he would just say no to them -- stop Teddy Kennedy in the aisle.

How? Not, obviously, by democratic procedure. One vote does not overbalance 99. Not by negotiating or political deal-making -- that is what he denounced. If he should resort to that, he would be as despicable as the people he was stirring others up to hate. No, Mr. North would have to change things by remaining an outsider even on the inside -- the perfect definition of the anti-democratic desire to overthrow legitimate elected officials of whom one disapproves.

Who, after all, voted for all those officials in Washington? Ordinary Americans. Who listens to the media, turns on the TV, attends the movies? The American people. That is a large and heterogeneous, a flawed and wonderful, entity. The popular culture it has created and enjoys has many shortcomings, as all cultures do. But it is our culture. And it is far preferable to the bile-spouting, single-line denunciation of the entire culture that people listen to on ''Radio Free Ollie.''

Democracy does not promise doctrinal purity. G.K. Chesterton said that it resembles blowing one's nose -- one may not do it well, but one should do it oneself. It is the American people doing it themselves that the North partisans really hate. They say they love America, but only an America of their own nostalgic definition, the one they claim has been ''taken away from us,'' not the real and messy and beautiful world around them. For that, their rule is: ''Hate it, and make it leave.''

6* Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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