I've brought a bunch of things home from the Republican convention: a baseball cap with a trunk and floppy ears, a chocolate elephant, a pamphlet about Hell entitled "Suppose it's true after all?" and three new blisters.
But I've also brought home one word out of the millions I've heard: "control."
This was the key word in the subterranean anxiety that ran through Detroit like an article of faith: "things" are out of "control."
It is the fear of chaos, the anorphous and deeply felt desire for control," for stability, that united people as different as Henry Kissinger and Jesse Helms. It is the new language that reaches out and touches all of us right now in one way or another.
My souvenir word will become, I suspect, the political umbrella phrase, of 1980. It's vague enough and big enough to cover legious of believers.
The platform preamble puts it this way: "They are rising up in 1980 to say that this confusion must end; this drift must end; we must pull ourselves together as a people before we slide irrerievably into the abyss."
But it wisely does not describe precisely which "confusion," which "drift" or which "abyss" they have in mind. So when they stand up and say that things are out of control, that we need a return to the mythical good-old-days, one person will think of the economy, another will think of foreign policy, a third will think of kids and drugs and sex. And all of them may applaud.
I also think of what "control" means to the new religious right that was in this convention and in politics this year with new language, but an old agenda.
The fundamentalist evangelical rights are the ones wearing "Christians for Reagan" buttons and the ones who say Amen when Reagan calls this a crusade and not a campaign. Many, like the Moral Majority, think of those who disagree as the immoral minority. l
To the right-wing religious people I talked with on the floor of the convention hall, the enemy is "humanism," a sophisticated word for their old nemesis. "Humanism," a belief that people are in control of their own ethical decisions and destiny, is, they say, the centrifugal force that has sent our values and morality spinning into the abyss.
The motto of the political evangelicals is the one written by television minister Jerry Falwell: "Get them saved, baptized and registered." Registered conservatives.
When Falwell was asked whether a sincere Christian could be a liberal, he answered, "Not very morally." When asked whether the Christians who worked in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement were immoral, he answered that they were morally mistaken.
Don White of Alaska, where the Moral Majority won a sizable portion of the delegation, describes their politics this way: "We are pro-Life, pro-Family, pro-Morality and pro-American. We believe that abortion is immoral, homosexuality is a perversion against God, and the unisex society forced on us by humanists is immoral. We are looking for fiscal and financial security."
In a curious and increasingly familiar mix of foreign policy, economics and social policy, the religious right sees a single pattern of dissolution and chaos. Parents have lost control of children. Men have lost control of women. We have lost our leadership in the White House and our dominance in the world.
Their answer to this slippage is also familiar: to harden the lines, to return to a cold war in our religious life and in our private life, as well as foreign affairs. To go by The Book, literally, and skip the interpretations.
"Yes," said one woman testily, "I believe a real Jonah was swallowed by a real whale."
Religious tolerance has always been fragile in the country. It is protected not by our innate openness, but by our recognition that we are a coalition of minorities, each escaping the other's bigotry.
Now those who call themselves part of "a moral majority" have moved in from the fringe, riding on the mainstream fear that "things are out of control." But along with my new word, I've also brought home a new and uncomfortable senation: confusion isn't the only thing that frightens me.