The world has turned upside down. I'm reading the Washington Post recently and there's a with a column championing gay rights. Yes, that Barry Goldwater.
"It's time America realized that there was no gay exemption," Goldwater writes, "in the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' in the Declaration of Independence."
Goldwater's grandson is openly gay. And the old man, who practically invented modern conservative thought, has mellowed from his days of cold warrior. Still, I never expected to see him as a candidate for the board of Queer Nation.
But Goldwater is not content simply to make some libertarian stand on gay rights. He has another agenda. And this one is even more surprising if you consider Goldwater's famous speech about extremism in the defense of liberty being no vice.
Today's Goldwater feels the need to write: "The radical right has nearly ruined our party." He means the Republican Party. And he means the radical religious right, as we've come to know it.
Who are these people, and what do they want from us?
Some of the most extreme want capital punishment for homosexuals. Others are satisfied with persuading state Republican conventions to come down against witchcraft and, of course, yoga.
The religious right is hardly a monolith. I'm sure there are important differences between, say, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in style and in substance. But there are at least a few important shared beliefs, too.
They want prayer in school. They think abortion is murder. They believe homosexuality is a sin. They oppose secular humanism, whatever that is. They're against one-worldism, whatever that is. They don't much like Jane Fonda (these folks never forget), and they don't like PETA -- a one-world, secular-human, animal-rights group.
Falwell promotes videos that accuse the president of murder. Robertson, meantime, is content on insisting the Constitution does not guarantee the separation of church and state. "It's a lie of the left," he said in a 1993 speech.
Speaking of the left, at the Virginia Republican convention, which gave us Ollie North as a candidate for the Senate, vendors were selling T-shirts and buttons with such logos as "There Are Americans . . . And There Are Liberals."
I picked up these last few nuggets from a story in last week's New Yorker about the stranglehold the religious right has on the Republican Party. Even bad Bob Dole has gotten in line. He wants to be president, and so suddenly he's gotten some old-time religion.
Why not? The religious right has taken over the Republican Party chairmanships in half a dozen states, and nobody thinks the movement is slowing down.
Some Democrats are pretty excited about this, and not in quite the way you'd suppose. They're delighted to run against the religious right. Otherwise, they'd have to run on Clinton's record.
Their guess is that most Americans, from Goldwater on down, fear the rhetoric. It's commonly held that the small-tent Republican presidential convention at Houston, featuring Pat Buchanan and Marilyn Quayle at their clench-fisted worst, lost the presidency to Clinton.
When Ronald Reagan opposes Ollie North and Goldwater slams the right wing of his party, you know something's up.
You want scary?
The New Yorker piece ends with Dan Quayle attending a training workshop for religious-right activists in Fort Lauderdale. It opens with a pledge of allegiance to a flag -- with a cross on it. "I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag . . . with liberty and justice for all who believe."
In America, people can pretty much believe whatever they want, and they don't get put in jail or even caned for it. But you often get this feeling from some in the religious right that if you don't accept their point of view, you're destined to either burn in hell for all eternity or be forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh for his entire three-hour program. It's the religiously correct movement.
Opponents are regularly accused of religious bigotry. A group called Interfaith Alliance has brought together clergy from most of your major religions to refute that concept. Its chairman, Herbert Valentine, says large segments of the religious right "pose a serious threat to the American principles of tolerance and liberty."
Goldwater, the voice of reason, couldn't have put it any better.