Head for the hills

Previously unpublished. Originally written at the end of 1992.

At this remove from the recent unpleasantness, as Republicans might think of November's elections, the breadth of George Bush's defeat can nowhere be seen more starkly than in his failure to carry even 40 percent of Howell County, a Republican bastion in southern Missouri abutting the president-elect's state of Arkansas.

And rare is the place to better illustrate the depth of disaffection felt by those true believers who did cleave to Bush.  Republicans in St. Louis who view the Democratic ascension as reason to head for the hills may find they should have called ahead for reservations -- there are no vacancies in the Ozarks and the battlements are manned.

Among the minority of Howell Countians that cast their ballots for the Bush/Quayle ticket there is a decided tendency to interpret Bill Clinton's victory apocalyptically, quite literally in at least one instance.

A local grocer reports that days after the election a woman came into his store and bought two tons of canned goods to see her through the civic upheaval preparatory to the coming Rapture. She allowed as Clinton is not mentioned by name in The Revelation to John, but that his election nonetheless portends the beginning of the end times as therein enumerated.

Others of like mind in the county are perhaps not moved to such extreme actions but share a similar anger and fear beyond anything described by the term sore losers.

On election night, at a casual social gathering to take in the returns, a group of entrepreneurs and financiers who (in the phraseology of political correctness they so abhor) happen to be Republicans, voiced the trepidation with which they anticipate a Clinton administration. A plurality of businessmen present expressed in all seriousness the opinion that prudence would lead them to withdraw from the bank the next morning cash sufficient to withstand any bank runs and failures they saw as unavoidable, if not in response to election results, then certainly as a result of Clinton's inauguration come January. Furthermore, these Republicans thought currency would not be the only thing subject to runs. Weapons, too, were predicted soon to be in short supply as those prescient enough to do so stocked up on guns a Democratic legislative and executive cabal would surely criminalize.

All arguments to the contrary were met with patient preachments against the sin of naiveté. But these business Republicans did not limit their concerns to the worldly. They shared qualms about the Clinton/Gore ticket on a moral par with the woman steeling against the Second Coming with baked beans. While sipping Wild Turkey and Michelob Light, watching an oversized Tom Brokaw make projections on a big‑screen TV in a newly minted house three blocks from the West Plains Country Club, this group of pocketbook voters couldn't avoid mouthing Biblical imprecations. America under the direction of Clinton, one man prophesied solemnly, is destined to a fate as a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah, with Hillary Rodham Clinton cast as Lot's wife, though a pillar of salt is widely considered too good for her. (The loathing felt hereabouts for Bill Clinton is exceeded only by that reserved for his spouse.) This was no mere allusion: Chapter and verse were cited.

In the weeks following the election Clinton has done nothing to assuage the fears of these religious and economic fundamentalists. His pronouncements on his intentions regarding homosexuals in the military, abortion counseling, and the naming of a stereotypical Harvard egghead to oversee transition economic policy have only confirmed the quaking Republicans in their darkest dread. If anything, party loyalists have turned their stridency up a notch.

Raw numbers do little to reveal the depth and fervor of this response among GOP faithful in the Ozarks. Certainly Clinton carrying the county was a noteworthy event, but the last time a Democrat won the White House, Howell County voted for him, too — Jimmy Carter got 52.8 percent of the vote in 1976 — so it's not unheard of.  Clinton's margin over the incumbent Bush was only 132 votes of the 13,537 cast. The county's returns were within a point or two of mirroring the nation's.  Ross Perot got just less than 20 percent of the votes.

Dennis VonAllmen, the Republican County Clerk, says he too has noticed anger among the electorate, a sentiment he attributes to the twining of religion and politics in rural Missouri.

One's vote is largely nothing more than an extension of one's denominational beliefs, cast reluctantly lest there be a taint by dirty sectarianism, but nonetheless important in an ongoing battle against real and imagined forces of evil. With his views contrary to their own on abortion and historical archetypes of family life, Bill Clinton, to these voters, is very much an agent of darkness. Combine this with a native isolationism borne of not-so-distant physical remoteness and an environment ripe for reactionary anger is incubated.

And it's likely to get worse. If the locals predicting the worst are proved wrong they will be forced further into the realm of paranoia. And if Howell County Republicans are right in their dire prognostications there is small hope of solace in being proved out. Saying I told you so is never very satisfying, as any Democrat can tell them.