-- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
So there I was, wearing my delegate badge around my neck, part of a heaving Republican sea at the World Arena, doing my civic duty at the County Assembly last Saturday morning. It was a glorious morning; I could have gone for a bike ride, I could have worked in the garden, I could have sat in the sun, drank coffee, and read the New York Times -- but there I was, cooped up with hundreds of other civic-minded folks like a bunch of unlucky porkers at a factory hog farm.
And for quite a while, it wasn't so bad. Ran into a lot of old friends, and old foes. Former mayor Bob Isaac was there, as feisty and cantankerous as ever, though still frail from a long bout with pneumonia last winter. It was good to see him and watch the parade of folks who came to greet him, to pass on some juicy political gossip, or to reminisce about times long past.
And, as the Assembly crept along with its business, there was plenty of time for talking, for deal making and for politicking. I was glad to have a chance to listen to Councilman Scott Hente's impressively thoughtful takes on a couple of issues, not to mention those of his colleague Larry Small. Had amiable conversations with, among others, Betty Beedy, Ray Powers, Marcy Morrison, MaryAnne Tebedo and her son Kevin (whose own son is a Marine stationed in Iraq), Sallie Clark, Ardis Schmitt, Jan Doran, and Will Perkins.
For a while, the floor of the World Arena resembled a giant, indoor, no-alcohol C-list cocktail party, a moveable feast of political has-beens, might-have-beens, could-bes and wanna-bes. It was fun, nostalgic and hopeful; I thought maybe I could just keep on with it, just join my dissonant voice to our city's mighty Republican choir.
And then I started paying attention to what was going on.
Delegates were given the opportunity to vote on 14 different resolutions, expressing the local party's stand on a variety of issues. All passed. A majority of those present supported the "right of citizens to keep and bear arms of their choice without any degree of prior restraint." Hmmm ... my neighborhood's a little rough; guess I'll opt for the Kalashnikov, a grenade launcher and half a dozen RPGs. The same majority wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, oppose campaign finance reform, oppose same-sex marriage, commend the president for his commitment to the global war against terrorism and support school vouchers.
And the candidates gave their (mercifully brief!) speeches. I don't know why they all bothered to speak, since they all said the same thing. They're all for TABOR, they're all tax cutters, they're all pro-life, they're all pro-gun and they're all Christians.
Indeed, from the opening prayer ("we ask this in Jesus' name") and throughout the day, you might just as well have been at a revival meeting, or a co-ed session of Promise Keepers. In Republican America, there seem to be no Jews, no Muslims, no Buddhists, no Hindus, no atheists and no agnostics.
And it felt just a little strange when district attorney candidate John Newsome proudly proclaimed himself a Christian in his first words to the delegates. Did he mean that, if elected, he'll favor his co-religionists? I'd rather he put down the Bible and reread the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution.
What happened, I wondered, to the wise, tough-minded conservatives who used to define Republicanism? You remember: the folks who fought for balanced budgets, fair taxation and a less meddlesome government. They're the same ones who complained bitterly about Bill Clinton's delusional "nation building" and who remember that Reagan combined supple diplomacy with military and economic might to bring about the fall and transformation of the former Soviet Union.
Here in Colorado Springs, they're history -- marginalized, co-opted or irrelevant. If you want to be part of the new ruling class, shove your gay friends back into the closet, wear your American flag pin, slip that sweet little snub-nosed .38 into your purse (right next to your Bible) and start praising Bush.
But they'll have to do it without me. By the time Douglas Bruce was made the Assembly's choice for county commissioner, I was headed for the door. Out in the bright Colorado sunshine, it seemed like a strange, twisted dream, right out of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Was it real? Was that Chuck Broerman at the dais, or was it Jim Jones? I'm not sure ...
But I know that I left before they passed out the Kool-Aid.