The sun was barely beginning its climb in the morning sky and I was already dressed and eating breakfast at the Buffalo Bill. This was the first full day of rehabilitation, and, as I gleaned from my fellow prisoners, everyone was apprehensive. Although many felt the rough treatment of Jane Mandel last night had been for show, they were still shaken by the event. “Liberals don’t suffer pain well,” explained Peter Scott as he ate his Cream of Wheat. “Too many of us are chicken. It must be in our genes.”
Gallows humor, I assumed. “No, Peter” I responded, “we’re not chicken—we’ve fought and won too many times to depreciate ourselves. Don’t buy into that conservative crap. We’re the ones who made this country great. We’ve pushed it forward. We’d still be living by 18th century rules if it were up to the conservatives.”
“Great attitude,” Tony Franceschi sarcastically responded. “That’ll get you a long way today. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get your lunch delivered soon by one of those Peacemakers.”
Before I could answer in kind, screeching feedback from the Lodge microphone made me cringe. “Attention, liberals,” said a familiar voice over the public address system. It was General Spitz who seemed to love speaking through loudspeakers. “We have wonderful news for you. This is really great! We have just received a memorandum from Washington informing us that reeducation camps throughout the United States are being named in honor of great conservative leaders. And our facility has a new name. Gone is Yellowstone. From now on we are known as Camp Rush Limbaugh. We’ve been named for that great champion of honesty and freedom in broadcasting. Isn't that wonderful?” the commandant exulted.
“Mega dittoes,” yelled one of the Peacemakers from the back of the room. Two or three people applauded softly.
The happy General continued. “According to the memo, all Orthodoxy sites are being named in honor of our Heroes of Conservatism. It says here that the camp in the Carlsbad Caverns is now called Camp Phyllis Schlafly; Arcadia National Park has been named after Robert Welch, the founder of the pioneering John Birch Society; and one of our most intriguing facilities, the one located inside Mammoth Cave has been named in honor of our visionary Vice President, Rand Paul of Kentucky.”
The significance of these name changes escaped the prisoners. No faint clapping this time, not even smiles of approval greeted the announcements. However, audience indifference failed to slow the importance of the occasion for the right-wingers. As soon as General Spitz switched off his microphone, the giant-screen television was turned on, and the audience was presented with a half-hour orientation film on the virtues of being conservative.
Slickly produced by Twentieth-Century Fox and narrated by Tom Selleck, the film offered montages of smiling, wholesome families testifying to the contentment they shared in having Republicans controlling the United States. There were plenty of short historical clips of prominent reactionary politicians plus scenes from the three wars against Evil that the U.S. had fought in this still-young century.
The highlight of the film was its closing segment. With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Nearer My God to Thee,” viewers saw the unveiling of Ronald Reagan’s head freshly sculpted into Mt. Rushmore. It was a solemn event, the climax of twenty years of lobbying by California conservatives. Many of the prisoners were impressed with the masterful job the sculptors had performed in morphing Jefferson’s likeness into that of Reagan.
I remember how space limitations on the mountainside forced a national plebiscite in 2017 in which voters decided which existing head would make way for The Great Communicator. I predicted at the time that Jefferson, the father of the modern Democratic Party, would be decapitated. He was.
When the movie ended, the commandant returned to the microphone. “That’s what we’re all about—we honor tradition,” he told the audience as he, himself, brushed aside a few genuine tears. “Conservatism remembers the best of the past and works to revive it and preserve it. Conservatism stands for all that is Good because conservatives are Good. In fact, we're just one little ‘o’ away from God. Never forget that fact.”
Then came the political pitch. “Don’t you want to be part of that tradition? Don’t you want to share in our accomplishments? These can be your accomplishments, too. Bask in the pride born of victory. Don’t stand apart, join us and become a crusader for our cause. Know the inner warmth that overtakes you when you accept what we call Dynamic Duality: Republican governance under Conservatism.
“Any time, any day, you can join us,” General Spitz assured the inmates. “Just sign one of the conversion affidavits that are distributed throughout Yellowstone…ahem, Camp Rush Limbaugh, and you’re on your way to conservative consciousness—and, you’re on your way home to your property and friends.”
As the General concluded his remarks and the prisoners waited for the next event on the rehabilitation schedule, I noticed that several men and women around me had been touched by what had just transpired. “I think these guys might be on to something,” said one middle-aged man who introduced himself as Billy Serrano from Hollywood. “I ‘m working-class now, and I was born working-class. I never thought of being anything but a Democrat. But what am I holding on for? The unions are dead; industry is gone; our jobs have been exported to Africa and Asia. What’s my future with the Democrats? I'm going to become a Republican. I’m going home.”
I couldn’t let this pass without commenting. “Wait a minute! Did the conservatives try to stop any of the things you just described?” I asked, “or did they support the flight of jobs to the low-wage, non-unionized world? They’re too tied to big business interests to worry about your problems. The working man or woman is not their primary concern.”
I continued, "Republican loyalty is to Big Capitalism where money and investments and property come before human concerns. If working people donated the same amount of money to Republican campaigns as big business does, they’d have a chance with the political right. But it’s all those wealthy economic sectors—Big Timber, Big Finance, Big Petrochemical, Big Pharmaceutical, and so on, they’re the real Republican base. They finance the right wing.
“But to gain and hold power, they still need votes,” I added, “so they turn to Big Culture. Cultural issues, man, these are their main arguments to working stiffs like us: Do you want a gay couple living next door to you and your kids? Would you want your daughter to marry a lesbian? Do you want your daughter aborting your grandchild? Do you want different people around you? Different races? Different religions? Different values? Of course you don’t. Join the Republicans and we’ll give you family values you can embrace—simple solutions to complex problems—old fashioned ways that’ll insulate you from change. It’s all smoke, Billy, and you know where they’re blowing it.”
My argument didn’t change Serrano. “Well, all I know is that I’m out of work and in prison because I voted for liberals,” he responded. “I want a job. I want to be with my family. I want to be a part of the mainstream. Don’t you see, I want to be a full-fledged, red-white-and-blue, get-goose-pimples-on-the-Fourth-of-July American? My country ‘tis of me, bro.” With that he turned and headed for a small table containing a pile of blank affidavits.
“It sure would be nice to be back home in Portland,” said a thirtysomething woman somewhat sheepishly. She was standing behind me and obvious overheard my exchange with Billy Serrano. “I could sign the affidavit, go back to my life, and just never speak out or vote again. Would that be wrong?”
“No one can tell you what to believe, except yourself,” I replied in true liberal fashion.
“Then, I’m going back to Oregon,” she said as she, too, walked toward the table of affidavits.
A short while later the prisoners were ordered out of the Lodge. But the group seemed smaller. As I looked around, I noted that Serrano and the woman from Portland were no longer among us.
“Did you see how fast those two defectors were taken out of the Lodge?” Peter Scott asked. “As soon as they picked up one of those forms, the Peacemakers took them away. They don’t waste time. Just sign a form and you’re outta here. ”
After leaving the Buffalo Bill, we prisoners were marched toward a cluster of buildings about a half-mile away. I appreciated the physical exercise, but I was growing increasingly apprehensive. This was all happening so fast, and no one shared with us the details of today’s schedule; the rehab bulletin just said “9:30 am: Visit.” I had no idea what to expect. Could it be another movie? Maybe a dunking chair or a firing squad? I learned soon enough as we approached a newly-constructed gray building bearing the marquee: Museum of Conservatism.
Forgive me, but this place was so impressive that I need to describe everything I can remember about it. Inside, the Museum was a madhouse of artifacts on display, recorded audio-visual experiences, and hundreds of people milling about. There were oversized photographs, movie screens, historical soundbites, and cases filled with memorabilia, all recounting the rise to dominance of hard-right conservatism.
We prisoners moved slowly through the history. In the John Birch Society area, for example, there were large photos of Robert Welch showing his evolution from the mid-1950s when he was the manufacturer of Welch’s Coconut candy bars and those tasty little drops of chocolate-covered caramel, Pom Poms, to the late 1950s and the 1960s when he emerged as a demagogic fear-monger and chief organizer of the anti-Communist John Birch Society.
In several glass cases were candy bar wrappers and empty Pom Pom boxes, as well as a first edition of the spiral-bound Blue Book in which the JBS set forth its credo. I also remember seeing a blank subscription form for American Opinion, the long-defunct propaganda magazine Welch created in the 1950s, the journal that called President Eisenhower a dupe of the Communists. There was also the original lease for the first Betsy Ross Bookstore, the chain of modest outlets that peddled Bircher propaganda.
At several points in our tour of this right-wing Hall of Fame we were shown film clips from famous speeches by the conservative Founding Fathers and Mothers, but it was hard to hear the words because of the crowd noise. On the wall between photographic blowups of the prominent (Oliver North, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham) and the obscure (Gerald L.K. Smith, George S. Benson, Carl McIntyre, Billie James Hargis, Joe Pyne, Dan Smoot), were pithy quotations from movement heroes, among them:
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue—Barry Goldwater.
Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam—even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do—Ann Coulter.
And, concerning law school professor Anita Hill who testified against a conservative Supreme Court appointee, A little bit nutty, a little bit slutty—David Brock (before he renounced the Right and joined to the Left).
Like any good political museum, historically significant documents were plentiful. Surrounded by pictures of Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and other conservative studs who took over Congress more than a quarter-century ago, there was the original Contract with America, written on parchment and signed by Republicans seeking election to Congress in 1994.
How bold, this “detailed agenda for national reform.” How poignant the terms of this “written commitment with no fine print” which delineated ten areas for immediate reform once a new Republican-led Congress was installed. From the Taking Back Our Streets Act (build more jails, increase penalties, execute more criminals), to the Jobs Creation and Wage Enhancement Act (cut capital gains by 50 percent), and the Personal Responsibility Act (end welfare), the Contract tied conservatism to James Madison, Samuel Adams, and the Bill of Rights—even to Moses and Yahweh and the Ten Commandments. This was sacred stuff.
Not everything was so sacrosanct, however. Retrieved from a barbershop floor, a locket of Newt Gingrich’s weedy gray hair added sentimentality to the museum displays. There, too, were the shoes worn by Strom Thurmond when he walked out of the Democratic National Convention in 1948, vowing never to accept the commitment of President Truman and the Democrats to equal rights for U.S. citizens of African descent.
Then there was that eagle. A gigantic plaster of Paris eagle—the original one—that hung over Phyllis Schlafly’s head in her office at the Eagle Forum, the conservative women’s auxiliary she established in the 1970s.
Other personal items included Senator Joe McCarthy’s shot glass, William F. Buckley’s thesaurus, a tortoise-shell hairbrush used by Ann Coulter to stroke her long blonde tresses one hundred times before each TV interview.
Many prisoners seemed impressed with Rupert Murdoch’s Australian passport that was abandoned as soon as he migrated to the United States. But absolutely everyone paused to view the rifle gripped by Charleton Heston when, like Moses berating the wayward Israelites—or in Heston's case, scolding a bunch of agitated movie apes—he inveighed against gun-control advocates, promising to drop this rifle only “from my cold, dead hand.”
The most touching exhibit, however, was the salmon-colored dress worn by Phyllis Schlafly every time she appeared in public from 1964 until 1997. Not the same, single dress, but one of the 177 salmon-colored dresses the auxiliary leader owned in that time-period.
I observed that when the prisoners passed the dress, many of them actually touched the hem, so much so that the garment was already showing signs of deterioration. It must have been an emotional experience for some of the liberals because once they touched the Schlafly dress, a few of them fell to the floor, some walking on their knees repeating repentant phrases, others falling into spasmodic convulsion. In particular, one liberal, while prostrate on the floor, kept repeating "She's a saint. She's a saint. Help me, St. Phyllis, in my hour of need."
The Schlafly display was taking on its own sanctity. As I passed the dress, I heard two Peacemakers speaking about God and miracles and the spiritual significance of the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the A and Z of the Greek alphabet. One guard noted that when placed next to each other, Alpha and Omega resembled a fish—an ancient symbol for the ultimate Fisher of Men, Jesus Christ—while another guard solemnly reminded his friend, “And just remember, a salmon is a fish.”
Less religious, I suppose, were the personal items, in particular the amazing paper artifacts on display. One case held a mint copy of Red Channels, the 213-page book—exhaustively researched and published in 1950 by a supermarket owner from Syracuse—which named the Commie entertainers who were corrupting America. There were no subversive militia leaders, no bomb throwers or mad saboteurs in the book, but it did list a harmonica player (Larry Adler), a jazz pianist (Hazel Scott), a symphony conductor leader (Leonard Bernstein), a dance band leader (Artie Shaw), and a couple of folk singers (Josh White and Pete Seeger).
The hits just kept coming. Directly from Senator Joe McCarthy’s pocket, there was that secret list of 105 State Department employees who were members of the Communist Party—although it was folded in such a way that we still couldn’t see a single name. Similarly palpable, yet unreadable, was a draft of Richard Nixon’s Secret Plan which in the 1968 presidential campaign he said would get the United States out of the Vietnam War. It, too, was difficult to decipher. In fact, the paper looked blank.
From the scribbled draft of the lyrics to Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” —to a tureen filled with Florida chads—to the first draft of Pat Buchanan's “peasants are coming with pitchforks” speech delivered during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996—the Museum housed a priceless collection of Conservatiana.
The display receiving the most attention, however, was mounted in the large Victory Room. Here in distinct sections of the Room were videos of the three great wars against Evil. Somehow, I knew there would be footage of Bush, pere and fils, proudly leading the belated Victory Parade in Baghdad commemorating success in the Iraq War, now renamed Axis of Evil I. They had to wait until Barack Obama left office, but they got their official parade.
The exhibit hall presented this historic moment, not so much as an American military achievement, but as a quintessential family experience, the bonding of a boy and his dad. How often does a son get to finish the work begun by his father? How often does a father get to thank his son for being such a good boy?
In another corner of the facility action footage from Axis of Evil II in 2017 tweaked liberals over this great U.S. accomplishment that they had opposed. With absolutely no assistance from any other country on Earth—and with no help from the Democrats—American power changed the regime in Iran. Scenes of the bombing of Tehran, the bombing of Qom, the bombing of Mashhad, the bombing of Tabriz, as well as the bombing of Iranian supply lines, seaports, and manufacturing sites drove home the old American message, “Don't Tread on Me.” And that footage of President Birch leaning on the trans-Persia oil pipeline while congratulating the newly-elected Iranian head of state, Christiane Amanpour, demonstrated that the U.S. wanted the Tehran government to succeed in the post-Evil world.
The most honored place in the Axis of Evil II section went to the actual piece of paper with which Sadaam Hussein surrendered to the Americans for the second time. It was so simple: a white sheet of writing paper with the words, "I Surrender," hastily scrawled in perfect English.” And there was the signature, “S. Hussein.” This invaluable artifact was framed in non-glare, bullet-proof glass and mounted on the wall. Fortunately for future generations, the U.S. soldier who handed blank paper to Sadaam was an Army archivist who just happened to have a piece of low-acid paper in his briefcase. This document will last for centuries.
Maybe because the war was still fresh in our memories memories, scenes from Axis of Evil III, that long-anticipated confrontation with North Korea, were less impressive. The war began a month before the Congressional elections last year, and the peace treaty was signed by Birch within days of his State of the Union address. Images of rice paddies being bombed were impressive, but not as much as those of that Dear Leader Kim Il-Somebody being paraded in chains before a global TV audience.
Appropriately, there was plenty of footage of the True Hero of the conflict, General Colin Powell—Powell of Pyongyang, as he was now hailed—who had resigned from the State Department in 2004, but returned to active military duty in 2018. General Powell, the Conqueror of Korea, was the chief strategist of our victory over all Evil north of the 38th parallel.
As the prisoners moved toward the end of the exhibition area, there was another table with blank affidavits of contrition. I watched as a more of my fellow inmates, touched obviously by the persuasive impact of the Museum, picked up and began filling out the surrender documents. I was amazed at the ease with which so many liberals were switching allegiance. It reminded me of the seduction of innocent people by those alien pods in the old movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers—men and women slipping into mindless conformity because it was easy and comfortable and popular.
Where is the fight? Who’s for resistance? To renounce liberalism would mean to deny the social values it has taken me forty-five years to develop, to abandon the political principles I live by. “That will never happen to me,” I said defiantly, but under my breath.
Unfortunately, my intransigence was not mirrored in many other prisoners. If anything, their resolve was rapidly ebbing. This was particularly the case during the music festival staged for us following lunch. It was a country-western extravaganza—no rappers, no heavy metal—produced on a makeshift stage outside the Buffalo Bill. The government spared no expense booking top acts for the event. One after another country singers performed their old tunes and introduced new ones inspired by the moment.
In particular, the massively popular Jimmy Joe Jester—good old Triple J to his fans—brought hundreds of inmates to their feet when he debuted a new blues song he had composed in a taxicab on the way to this gig, “The Ballad of Camp Limbaugh.”
I still can’t get the words out of my head.
Sitting on a tree stump,
By the time Triple J had sung the tune a few times, hundreds in the audience were standing and singing along deliriously, swept up in the rhythm and touched by lyrics which spoke to their anxieties. “Don’t you just love it,” Peter Scott said to me.
I nodded, acknowledging my young acquaintance’s enthusiasm. “But, I’d rather be a liberal stuck in Los Angeles,” I responded sarcastically, trying to add my own flip humor to the situation. Peter smiled back, then turned to join Jester in still another romp through those infectious lyrics.
The concert lasted most of the warm afternoon. As it was coming to an end, the true purpose of the event became clear. Affidavits of contrition were distributed to the crowd by a group of Young Republicans trucked in from Montana State University. And the students were busy. Hands went up throughout the crowd. Everywhere new converts with the document in their hands were being walked away from the musical stage and taken in the direction of the Lodge.
I stayed to the end of the program. It concluded with a rousing patriotic flourish complete with U.S. flags and an Elvis impersonator singing “America the Beautiful” true to the style of The King. It was a powerful performance that left people in the audience crying out spontaneously, "I wanna become a conservative." Again, hands went up, and Young Republicans scurried to get affidavits to the new believers, many of whom were openly weeping.
I’m sorry, but I was not moved. To me it was soap opera theatrics and mawkish political propaganda. Besides, the sun was near setting and I was ready for dinner at the Buffalo Bill.
There was no organized activity planned for us following the evening meal. We had little choice but to return to our barracks since all buildings were closed, and the Peacemakers were enforcing the outdoor rules of “No loitering, No unorganized strolling.” Camp Rush Limbaugh was in a state of virtual lockdown.
For those seeking an alternative diversion, there was no television or radio, but each Unit did carry an ample supply of conservative reading matter: copies of National Review, biographies and autobiographies of prominent Republicans, right-wing diatribes, and plenty of religious tracts by fundamentalist preachers.
Somehow, an evening spent reading Protestant invective didn’t suit my mood. I wanted authentic answers, not religious bias. I was perplexed, however, by the ease with which so many liberals were converting; and I needed an explanation. “What are they doing? Do their ideals mean so little to them?” I asked my friend Tony Franceschi.
“As you said, you have to let each person decide his or her own fate,” Tony answered. “I know that after the Museum visit and the concert this afternoon, I was tempted to become a conservative. Those Republicans have so much going for them: great heroes, wonderful entertainment, and they’re friendly, too.”
“Friendly? Do you remember what happened to Jane Mandel this morning? Has anyone heard from her since she was dragged away?” I asked impatiently. “As for the Museum, that was pure bunk—some interesting artifacts, but all intended to lure us into surrendering our politics. What did they have? Strom Thurmond’s shoes. It was bad enough when the Republicans made his birthday a paid, national holiday; but to honor a pair of beaten-down wingtips. And Bill Buckley’s thesaurus? He just used that book to find a lot of high-falutin’ words nobody ever uses, but he still got everything wrong.
“As for the Victory Room,” I continued, “what they didn’t show you was the deaths—the thousands of U.S. troops killed, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, Iranian, and Korean military and civilians slaughtered by U.S. bombs and bullets. We’re the outcasts of the entire planet, Tony. Even the United Nations almost voted us out.
“Now, I love this country, but not unconditionally. When we make mistakes, they can be terrible. I don’t like ‘My Country, Right or Wrong,’ but I certainly will never agree to “My Administration, Right or Wrong.”
I was on a cathartic roll, venting the tension and frustration of the past few days. “It’s not just American militarism. Look at the environmental record of Bush and Birch,” I continued. “The Republicans have given our water and natural resources to Big Business. They chop down our forests, and pollute our fresh water with PCBs, oil spills, and industrial poisons. You can’t eat swordfish, tuna, oysters, wild salmon, or lots of different seafood anymore—too much mercury in the fish, too much chemical waste in the shellfish. Lakes, rivers, and oceans, all ruined. Do you know that nowadays bottled water outsells beer and soda pop combined?
“And don’t forget global warming. It’s left us with glaciers melting in Alaska and Antarctica, while in California, Australia, Chile—everywhere the sun shines intense ly—there are epidemics of skin cancer. When I was a kid we used suntan lotion to get that nice brown color. Nowadays, we use sunscreen lotion to avoid getting a tan.
“And what’s more vital than water and the sun? Air, of course,” I ranted. "But our air’s filthy, too. What building or automobile doesn’t have oxygen canisters connected to the air conditioning system for those emergency days? We all have oxygen delivered at home. Twice a month the man from Air So Fresh comes to my apartment to refill my tanks. And why do I have to pay for clean oxygen? Because natural air is filled with smog that no one cleans up.”
“Sounds like you’re running for president,” quipped a man from the back of the room. “Why don’t you just chill out, calm down. It’s not so bad. At least you have bread on the table and security from enemy attack.”
“Wait a minute. Who are you?” I shot back. “How do you know what I have or don’t have?”
“Look, my name’s Max Segal. I run a grocery store in Long Beach, and I’ve been a strong liberal ever since I became eligible to vote. Even before I could vote. But I’m not a nut about politics, as you seem to be,” he replied. “I’m getting convinced fast that liberalism is mostly about complaining. I have a family and I get three squares a day. I have a mortgage, and I pay my Visa bill on time.
“So, what am I doing stuck in Montana or Wyoming or wherever in Hell we are?” Max continued. “I’m here because I voted for Democrats. Listening to you bitch about the wretched world that conservatives have given us makes me think I should have voted for Bush and Birch and every other Republican. What did Obama ever do for me?”
Max was articulate and, apparently, ready to convert. “I like living in the only superpower in the world. ‘We’re Number One!’ sounds good to me,” he said. “If some people are accidentally killed by our bombings, that’s real unfortunate. But it’s collateral damage. I feel sorry for them, but that’s life, and death, in the big world.
“As for the environment, think of the jobs the new industries have created: water bottling plants employ thousands of people, and there are good jobs in the oxygen supply business. The same is true for the sunscreen makers. And if you closed down the corporations you seem to hate, you’d cripple America's economy. No one would work and no one would buy groceries.”
“Oh, relax, Max,’ I said dismissively as I walked away. One day of brainwashing and my fellow liberals were in retreat. No one was agreeing with me, and it was frustrating.
Even after a night’s rest and a big breakfast, I remained worried about the reactions of the Democrats in Camp Limbaugh. They embraced reactionary rhetoric so easily and accepted Republican shibboleths as truths. Openly denouncing historic liberal achievements, many prisoners mindlessly rallied behind the uncritical patriotism embodied in country-western lyrics and anything colored red, white, and blue. Multiply the Limbaugh experience by the number of Orthodoxy camps throughout the country, and, I calculated, American liberalism could be dead within a month or two.
With the morning sun on the rise, the prisoners in Unit 6-M were up and ready for a new day of experiences. But most of all we were hungry. Although we received our meals at the Lodge, the cuisine wasn’t exactly haute. Toast and jelly and scrambled eggs for every breakfast, hamburgers and fries for every lunch, then leftovers presented as creamed beef and toast for dinner. It made for a humdrum dining experience.
“I hear they feed you regular food like fresh fruit, Caesar salads, lamb chops, barbequed ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and gooey desserts when you convert to Republicanism,” remarked one of the prisoners. “Then they ship you home stuffed with good food.”
“Ah, shut up,” yelled someone, “you’re making me hungry.”
Most of the men broke into laughter at the banter. But I didn’t think it was funny at all. To me, the promise of nutritious food in exchange for political conversion was a sadistic trick. Still, we quickly assembled outside for the short march to breakfast. Toast and eggs again. It was be better than nothing.
Walking toward the Lodge, Peter Scott let it slip. “Don’t you just love it up here?” he said. “The clean air, the woods and lakes and hills in the distance—this is how people should live.”
“Are you out of your mind?” I inquired. “You’re a political prisoner here, and now you’re embracing your incarceration? It sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me. Have you forgotten how they ripped you out of your regular life and carted you up here in chains and handcuffs? Do you remember the beating Jane Mandel received from the Peacemakers?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, but after a few days I’m looking at it in a different way,” Peter answered. “This is more like a boot camp, even a summer camp, for people out of synch with modern America. I’m learning more and more about the new political order. And I’m beginning to like it. No more politicians squabbling, no more expensive TV campaigns filled with hot air and lies, no more dissent. It’s pretty nice being in accord with everyone in the country. Sure, Jane was manhandled, but she was a troublemaker—and she didn’t believe in God.”
“You’re nuts,” I said. “You must have been eating tree sap or something. Don’t you understand that dissent is crucial in a democracy, that this country has progressed only because we have argued and compromised on differences openly and freely? Until the reactionaries began their drive to streamline political life in America, we had our differences, but we moved forward as a country.
“But our democracy has been ruined and our liberty destroyed by right-wing ideologues who have jammed their version of Truth down our throats. And as for God, I can remember when religion was a private matter with people allowed to believe what they wanted and if they wanted; it was nobody’s business except the individual’s.”
I continued lecturing Peter as we approached the Lodge. “Don’t give up on democracy just because you don’t like angry debate. You need to support the exchange of ideas or else you’ll have no voice in whatever happens. And remember that your religious belief should be your personal choice, not one imposed by the will of the government or the mob.”
“Aw, come on, Tenney, give it a rest,” interjected another prisoner. “We’re hungry and we don’t need to hear your belly-aching again. Let’s eat and get on with the day.”
As the prisoners filed in for breakfast, each dining table was adorned with platters of scrambled eggs and piles of toasted white bread. While spreading jelly on my toast, I noted that the dining hall was more crowded than the day before. Despite the steady conversion of scores of liberals, the number of prisoners kept pace, even increased. General Spitz was apparently correct when he said we were just the beginning. They were bringing in fresh, unconverted liberals and Democrats as fast as they were changing them into Republicans.
Just as it happened yesterday, following breakfast we were assembled outside the Lodge and then directed toward an area of new buildings. We ended up at a large tan structure which bore the curious sign announcing “Hall of Shame.”
I didn’t take a genius to figure out this place: another propaganda museum, this time vilifying liberals for their alleged Crimes against America. It was the reverse of yesterday's field trip honoring reactionaries. In single file we detainees made our way from room to room.
The first site contained a Right to Life exhibit with glass jars containing embalmed fetuses and displays of bizarre medical tools used in abortion procedures. Piped into the room was a strange audio mix of babies crying and fanatics from Operation Rescue yelling insults and threats at women entering abortion clinics. This display was called "The Symphony of The Right to Life." It was pure Republican anti-abortion propaganda.
I wondered why this room existed at all. Abortion was already illegal because all forms of abortion had been outlawed by terms of the Every Fetus a Child Act passed by Congress immediately after Birch was inaugurated. The Act became effective law when it was unanimously approved by the Supreme Court meeting for an expedited emergency review. This was ancient history, now, but it offered Republicans a chance to gloat and remind liberals just who now controlled the bodies of American women.
As a museum display, however, the abortion exhibit was like beating a dead horse. It lacked the immediacy I witnessed yesterday in the Museum of Conservatism.
Still, we dutifully we passed through the abortion displays and into the next room which was arranged as a Liberal Losers presentation. Here were icons from Democratic politicians from various eras. We prisoners viewed items such as an FBI press release detailing the extramarital activities of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a patent application by Al Gore claiming he invented the internet. Also on display was a six-pack of Billy Beer; the battle helmet worn by Michael Dukakis when he drove an Army tank during a campaign stunt; and an English-Vietnamese, Vietnamese-English dictionary once owned by John F. Kennedy and given to Lyndon Johnson as a souvenir by Mrs. Kennedy.
I couldn’t believe it, but the centerpiece of the Liberal Losers exhibition was a framed piece of blue cloth. Mounted on a wall with small spotlights trained on it, here was a 6” x 6” segment carefully cut from the dress worn, supposedly, by Monica Lewinsky and stained by President Clinton. For political conservatives this was the Shroud of Turin, proof in textile that their faith was justified. Somehow the dress must have fallen into Republican hands and was cut into sections for maximum exposure.
I could envision a fragment of this fabric on display in every POA camp in the nation. Tellingly, our section was not the celebrated stained portion of the blue dress. I imagine that swatch never circulated. “The Spot” must have remained locked in a secret vault in Washington where Republicans hoped to use it someday to prove something.
Sadly in both museum rooms more of my liberal colleagues grabbed affidavits and were spirited away by the ubiquitous Peacemakers.
Today’s exhibits weren’t impressive, I concluded, as I trudged toward the next venue, an auditorium with several hundred cushioned seats. “Looks like we’re gonna get another show,” said one of the liberals.
When the room filled, the lights were lowered and a spotlight panned the stage and the main curtain. “Ladies and Gentlemen of liberal persuasion” a stentorian male voice slowly boomed, “welcome to Camp Rush Lim-baugh—and welcome to Re-pub-li-can-ism Vic-tor-i-ous!
“Now, without further ado, we present for your entertainment our special guest. He's here for only a short while because he has many camps to visit today. So give it up for the funniest man in politics—that madcap Southern Gentleman of the right—the only Congressman in history to accuse a sitting President of being a liar, live on worldwide TV—South Carolina’s gift to American values, Representative Joe ‘You Lie’ Wilson.”
With that intro, the conservative Congressman bounded from stage right, hit his mark, and quipped, “A funny thing happened on the way to Yellowstone. I ran over a liberal on the Interstate, and nobody gave a dang.”
The crowd laughed.
“You know the difference between a liberal and Satan,” the Senator asked. “Neither do I.”
More yucks followed.
“I got a million of ‘em,” he assured us. “Did you hear the one about the Democrat and the traveling saleslady? He did, and that got him impeached.”
This elicited increased laughter as the audience gradually warmed to Wilson’s vaudeville routine. Ever the trouper, the Representative plowed through his script, killing the audience with his signature joke. “Man walks into a post office, applies for a passport,” Wilson began, “Claims he was born in Hawaii. Postal employee says to him, ‘You can’t be Hawaiian, I don’t see any grass skirt. You lie,’”
The audience roared at this one. “What a talent,” said one of the prisoners as tears of laughter trickled down his cheeks. “This Congressman is a born comedian.”
“Enough, enough,” Wilson pleaded to the appreciative crowd. “I have to go. We’ve purged America of liberals, now I gotta get back to Washington and start saving the world. Today Yellowstone, tomorrow Yemen—oops, no liberals in Yemen, just terrorists!”
The gales of laughter continued.
“Before I leave, however, it’s my great pleasure to introduce a fine young group of amateur actors we call The Mighty Conservative Art Players. They’re here with an original production entitled, “Democrats Devour Their Own.” Good day, y’all, and God Bless America.”
It took about two minutes for the applause to subside. The good Congressman had been boffo. When the noise ended, the Players began what appeared to be a series of blackouts, short satirical skits all on the theme of the sexual peccadilloes of liberal politicians. The first skit began on the private yacht Monkey Business with a shapely blonde and a man resembling former Senator Gary Hart locked in an embrace.
There followed, predictably, a good imitation of Bill Clinton on the phone with a media advisor practicing his “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” explanation. The humor came from the sight of Clinton’s advisor evaluating the speech while frolicking in bed with his own extracurricular girlfriend. It brought the house down.
Just as the house lights rose for the next skit, this time featuring a Barney Frank look-alike, I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. It was a Peacemaker, and he motioned for me to follow. Never uttering a word, the guard led me out of the Hall of Shame, then down a short path and into a dark office building nearby. Once inside two more Peacemakers grabbed me, pushed my wrists together, and applied handcuffs. I was taken quickly to a room near the rear of the building, the Office of Compliance.
Copyright © 2012 J. Fred MacDonald - All Rights Reserved.