The Republican candidates are slugging it out, talking tough about cracking down on gay Mexican wetback couples who are stealing our guns and leaving us defenseless against big government, decrying the evils of taxation. Meanwhile an ancient Republican dropped by my house on Monday to sun himself on my porch and announce over coffee that he is now an independent. He is disgusted with the Current Occupant over Iraq and much more, including taxation. Unlike the Occupant, he does not think of taxes as a sacrifice but simply the dues you pay as a member of society, and the haves pay more than the have-nots because they have more to lose should anarchy ensue. And he was brought up to believe that more is expected of those to whom much is given.
He said he is not partial to any of his party's candidates in the field, especially not the cross-dressing gumshoe from New York, and while he's intrigued by Sen. Obama, he's not about to pin the D-word on his lapel. After all, he was a Republican for most of his life and as such served faithfully in the state legislature for 20 years. Becoming a Democrat now would be like coloring his hair. At 87, he doesn't have enough to color.
The problem is that his party has become the Calvinist party and he is Episcopalian. In his church, faith and doubt sit side by side: It's fear that we must cast out. But in the Republican Party, fear is the fuel that runs the car.
Calvinism, as all of you Calvinists know, is based on five points of doctrine, which spell out the word "TULIP" -- total depravity (everybody is sinful), unconditional election (God chooses who'll be saved, it's not up to you), limited atonement (Jesus didn't die for everybody, just for the chosen), irresistible grace (if God chooses you, you're saved, you can't resist) and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved, no matter what you do).
It's a chilly theology with big winners and losers, nothing like the feel-good thank-you-Jesus-for-making-me-beautiful uplift of the megachurches, and it draws clear lines. Either you are one of the elect or you are in the darkness, grinding your molars. Undoubtedly it's an excellent thing to be chosen from the depraved and to be atoned for exclusively and be able to do dreadfully dumb things, burn down the house, start a war, appoint dopes, with no danger of ever losing your chosenness. (When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way.) But it's not a good platform for a political party that has to be elected by a majority of the depraved.
Clearly the Current Occupant sees himself as a chosen president, though his theology is simpler than Calvin's: really just four points -- blindness as vocation (if you don't remember it, you're not responsible for it), unquestionable authority (the president is the president is the president), sustenance of faith (God has ordained you and it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks) and heckuva job (never admit a thing, let a smile be your umbrella). If you ran a business on those principles, you'd be in big trouble. Just look at General Motors.
The Calvinists who came to America withstood drought and tornadoes and locusts better than almost anybody else, and they were abstemious, which was good for their health, but they took too much pride in their dogmatism. They were a fractious bunch. When you own the pure truth, you don't care to have to listen to the foolish inconsistencies of the yahoos who sit in the pew ahead of you. While other more tolerant Christians were feeding the hungry and caring for the sick, the Calvinists were debating the finer points of TULIP and taking each other's temperature.
The Ancient stopped at my house on his way home from a reunion of old legislators, Republicans and Democrats, who meet to reminisce about their days at the Capitol back in a more amiable time, when people who disagreed sharply could be, as he says, "hugging buddies." It's hard to imagine this happening years from now, Mr. Hastert and Mrs. Pelosi sitting down to share pleasant memories of days gone by or the Current Occupant dropping in for a few laughs over the Gonzales debacle, but who knows? Meanwhile, the Ancient is in fine fettle, planning his garden, which is tending away from vegetables and toward flowers, plotting his summer trips, and enjoying the occasional coffee with rock-ribbed liberals. A sunny old age is the best revenge of all.
(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.