She was just a tiny thing, all peaches and cream and honey blond hair, her pink down vest shiny behind her "Jesus Comes First, I'm With the Moral Majority" button. But Salley McKenna, a freshman at George Mason University, was mad, and she rose up to her full 5-feet, 2-inches and hissed at George McGovern.
"He's nothing but a liberal-commie-atheistic-pinko-faggot. He's got nerve to come here and say the things he did. The Lord Jesus will make him pay for this . . . I hope his dentures fall ou."
So went the voice of dissent in George Mason's gleaming new Studio Theatre yesterday, when that famed liberal and dethroned Sen. George McGovern, a former student minister and son of an evangelical preacher, came to address the students on the "Effects of the New Right on the Politics of the '80s."
The packed house of 450 had been warm, effusive even, during the former senator's speech, responding with guffaws, laughs and hardy rounds of standing ovations when he declared, "It's one thing to be guided by spiritual insight, and another to impute biblical sanctity to a specific secular issue. So don't confuse the New Right with the New Testament."
Among those "smiling sinners," as McKenna called them, were the silent legions of people like herself: Born Again Christians, the growing minority that forms the Moral Majority at George Mason.
No one knows just how many of the young students at George Mason have been "born again," it seems as if every third person on campus claims a spot in that legion of true believers. It can be seen in buttons like the one on McKenna's trendy down jacket, in "Jesus Loves You" stickers on the bumpers of marshmallow-tired RVs and customized vans that line the parking lot, in heavy metal crosses that hang below smiling countenances and stringy beards.
Their presence irks many like Dave Willmore, a squeaky-clean blond who could pass for an altar boy in a three-piece suit. As coordinator of the student government's lecture series, Willmore said, "I brought him here, because this place could use a McGovern. It's such a conservative school. . . The Born Agains are very vocal here. We needed a little variety."
Variety they got, for "somewhat less," Willmore said, than McGovern's standard speaker's fee.
Opening his remarks by recognizing, to the delight of the crowd, that the school had been named after "the only man ever elected to the United States Senate who refused to serve," McGovern railed against "some forces emerging in American politics today that ought to be a concern to every thoughtful American. . . If you're interested in a reasonable political process where the forces of common sense and reason are the dominant considerations, then I think if you look at what's going on in political life today, you'll be concerned.
"On Nov. 4, some of the most respected and thoughtful members of the U.S. Senate went dow to defeat. . . Now, one wouldn't object to this if they were defeated by brilliant, far-sighted men, but when you look at some of the replacements, you have to join Rev. [Jerry] Falwell [founder of Moral Majority] in praying for the country. . . All of this is being described by commentators as a swing to the right or the death of liberalism or the end of the New Deal. If that's what it was, I wouldn't get too concerned about," McGovern said.
"But I don't think that is all that has happened. I think there is the emergence of irrational forces in American politics that are a threat to both liberals and conservatives."
Cautioning against the rise of the New Right and their political bedfellows, the "new breed of televised evangelists," McGovern did his best to discredit groups like the Moral Majority -- which he called the quasi-political/religious arm of Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour -- that led to his defeat after 18 years in the Senate.
At one point, McGovern quoted from a speech delivered by Southern Baptist Convention president Bailey Smith to a gathering of 15,000 fundamentalist ministers in Dallas. "It's interesting to me," McGovern quoted Smith as saying, "that at these great political rallies, how you have a Protestant to pray, then a Catholic, then a Jew. Now, with all due respect to those dear people, my friends, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."
Said McGovern: "That's one of the troubles with this Moral Majority. They don't understand humility. They don't know very much about passion. They're so mean. When they go out here on the stump, you don't see much Christian compassion out there."
Peter Nassetts, a born-again senior at George Mason, said that he did not see it quite that way. "What poor, misguided Mr. McGovern failed to concede," Nassetta said, "is that the reason so many people are becoming born-again and supporting the Moral Majority is because they have just drawn the line.
"Society has been going further and further to hell," he said. "We just don't want to go along with it."