From the hard right to the mushy right–within minutes you can experience both in New York, as each extreme fights for a piece of a tent that’s not so big. While religious right fanatics confronted anti-Bush demonstrators on the city’s avenues, GOPers pushing for gay rights sipped cocktails at a lovely reception off Bryant Park. In language, in look, in priorities, the two bands had little in common. But both are disappointed by Bush. And Bush probably has each in his pocket.
As hundreds of thousands of progressives marched past an empty Madison Square Garden on Sunday, a hundred or so counter-protesters screamed at them: “Kerry loves communists, Kerry loves terrorists.” And they held up signs decrying abortion. Leading this brigade was Randall Terry, the longtime abortion foe famous for having led the so-called Operation Rescue years ago (and for being tossed out of his church for infidelity). An unabashed Christian fundamentalist who used to advocate stoning as punishment for unruly children, Terry once tried to deliver a fetus in a jar to Bill Clinton. He ran for Congress in upstate New York in the mid-1990s as a Republican and lost. In recent years, he has devoted much time to battling gay marriage and gay rights. Not long ago, his adopted son came out of the closet and denounced Terry. (Terry’s adopted daughter also blasted him publicly.)
As Terry’s troops tussled with the marchers, Terry spared me a few minutes. He noted that Bush has been “disappointing” for doing little to criminalize abortion. “If he gets to appoint a Supreme Court justice, he better not make his dad’s mistake. His dad gave us [Justice David] Souter.” Souter, of course, has supported abortion rights. Why do you think it is, I asked Terry, that people who tend to oppose abortion rights support the war in Iraq? ‘”There’s an ethical connection,” he replied. “Either you believe in fixed principles of justice or you are swayed by the emotional arguments of the moment. Truth and justice are eternal. Saddam Hussein needed to be killed.” But wasn’t Bush’s talk about weapons of mass destruction the “emotional argument of the moment?” No, said Terry: “I think they had WMDs and just moved them.” And, he added, “if we pull out of Iraq, the terrorists will be running the country in six months.” He had a final point to make: “All you need to know is that Islam has never once converted a country peacefully.” (I missed the part where Saddam Hussein’s regime was an Islamic government.) “Jesus died to start Christianity,” Terry continued. “Mohammed killed to start Islam.”
As Terry returned his attention to the ongoing shoutfest between his comrades and the demonstrators, I asked about his family troubles. “It’s still painful, and it has gotten worse,” he said and offered no details. And why was his group not brandishing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses? Where was the fetus in the jar? “Oh,” he answered, “this is not a day for that, and I’ve mellowed a bit.”