A Political Manifesto
by Marvin Payne

I want this column to be timely, so I’m going to write about politics and elections. I know that even local elections are a way off yet, but sometimes Meridian loses my columns (or sometimes they ask me to repair them and make them more accessible.  For example, they didn’t like the one I sent them written entirely in the Deseret Alphabet), and so publication of a certain column is seriously delayed.

Just to be safe, I thought once about writing a column about the freezing over of certain nether regions, but I couldn’t think of how to relate it to journal keeping.

How You Stood

Hah! Now I suppose you’re expecting me to relate politics to journal keeping! No sweat. Journal readers will want to know how you stood on the issues like whether or not you’re a slave owner, maybe. My pioneer ancestor John Brown was (baptized them, but didn’t free them), and I learn from his journal that when everybody consecrated their property to the church, his list of items included “1 African Servant Girl.”

Not only will your posterity (and–dream big–the whole literate public) want to know where you stood politically, but how you got there. My posterity will read about how another family and mine were communists (small “c”) sharing a house in Springville, Utah, and the only people who were confused by it were the home teachers, who didn’t know exactly how to report us.

Then they’ll read how I went from communist to being merely anti-capitalist for several years (this was based on the political fact that I always seemed to be paying interest rather than earning any).

They’ll read how I voted for Bill Clinton twice (Hold on! Don’t pull the plug on your computer!), because the first time, he was the only candidate I thought I could actually have a conversation with, and the second time because his opponent forgot to show up for the election. (Also, of course, I knew that a vote for Clinton in Utah wouldn’t actually have any effect on him getting elected, which I didn’t really want, anyway.)

Politics are Interesting

Politics is (are?) interesting. We don’t talk about it (them?) much, but what’s more interesting than Joseph Smith’s political dream of freeing the slaves by having the government purchase them from their owners? Of providing credit to the poor? Of employing and educating convicts? Or the political reality of “jury nullification,” by which the jury that was trying Joseph’s killers knew (everybody knew) they were guilty, but acquitted them anyway? Or the political irony in the fact that Brigham Young had to burn Winter Quarters to the ground because he’d built it on the side of the Missouri River that belonged to the Indians by treaty, even though he’d asked the Indians, who said it was fine with them, and the U.S. broke the treaty a couple of years later anyway–without, of course, asking the Indians. (President Young didn’t follow the government’s orders exactly. He burned everything but the standing crops. Those he left for the Indians.) This is politics, mixed with religion–purportedly a dangerous mix. 

We always want to be like the apostles and prophets. This is, on the whole, a very good idea. But the Brethren are really not allowed to be all that political, out loud (mainly because they know we all want to be like Them, all of Them, and we’d be traumatized to find that some of Them are Democrats).

So, acting like our leaders, we feel righteous about not being political. But hey, I believe in the General Authorities a lot, and never had a pair of glasses that are solid along the top but just wire-rimmed around the bottom, which is what all of Them wore all the time I was growing up. I mean, certain things that are rightly characteristic of the General Authorities are simply not expected of the general church membership, and political taciturny is one of them. The not expected things, I mean.

Melting Stew

And it’s okay to think differently from somebody else. But “Wait,” you ask, “What about the ‘melting pot’ we were all taught in elementary school that the United States is?” (Germans would love that sentence.) (Or maybe that sentence they would love. Either way, I, an only one-sixteenth *German little boy, thought “melting pot” a pretty funny image, even then, was.)

Actually, all our teachers had it wrong. What the Founding Fathers (and, presumably, their Founding Wives) really had in mind was more of a “stew,” where carrots would remain carrots, and onions would remain onions, but cooperating with the carrots, even swooshing around next to them, but becoming only slightly more carroty or oniony, respectively, all the while dutifully celebrating their diversity. In other words (in other spoons), we’re allowed to think differently
from one another! That’s politics! That’s America! Be a potato!

This is what it’s all about. (Although I’m doing a project right now–quite a political project–with some young BYU folk musicians, and one of them has a sticker on her mandolin case that says, “What if the hokey-pokey really is what it’s all about?”)

On Stage for the Republicans

Which brings me to the admission that, yes, I am now backstage, graffitiing. This is the dress rehearsal for a performance tomorrow night for The National Federation of Republican Women, who are gathering from the four (really it’s five, if you look closely, and don’t count Alaska and Hawaii) corners of the nation–at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, which might qualify as the “large and spacious building” except that I’m sure it’s a lot more elegant than Lehi’s was, and so huge that it never would appear full, nor would people be looking out the windows and pointing fingers at the righteous, because they’ll all be inside watching us.

Us are the BYU Folk Dance Ensemble and the Living Legends (also BYU). And me. (Not BYU, but I went there once, briefly, until I left on student sabbatical, from which I never returned. Also I support the place with my tithing. I believe the portion of BYU that my tithing supports ((paid for and perpetually maintains)) is a certain drinking fountain on the second floor of the Richards P.E. Building. Well, I don’t pay a great deal of tithing. Ten percent, don’t get me wrong. But hey.)

In this show I am a country singer. Oh, not the kind you think I am. I sing countries. And all these cool dancers are helping me sing the U.S.A., a country I love to sing, because it’s mine. Did you imagine that in the stew you would find Eastern European tambourines, Samoan oars, Celtic tin whistles, Mexican sombreros, and African gumboots all in a broth of Native American
feathers? Not terribly appetizing, I suppose, but colorful.

This hokey-pokeying mandolin player, with her buddies on dobro, fiddle, guitar, bass, and doumbec (don’t ask), are helping me tie the soup together. (Hmm, this metaphor is breaking down rapidly.) I’m the host, the banjo-flailing (actually, “frailing”) interlocutor, the occasional evangelistic preacher of the Republican Ideal–a character who is, all at once, Carl Sandburg, Martin Luther King, and Garth Brooks. Picture that. It’s pretty fun. Mostly it’s fun because I got to write the show and squeezed in my political testimony. Here it is, in the first song we’ll do tomorrow night.

I pledge allegiance to the sage and the columbine,
to the ancient twisted pine against the sky.
I pledge allegiance to the colors in the wind
and the colors in our skin and the hopes that rise
in the soul of America.

I pledge allegiance to the Maker of the land,
the Shaper of the sand on the canyon rim.
I pledge allegiance to the rivers deep with dreams,
the silver singing streams. They sing for Him
the song of America.

    We are on holy ground.
    We are the children of the dream.
    We are the ones who can make it all come true.
    We are on holy ground,
    and the Lord of all we see
    has chosen me, and He’s chosen you.

I pledge allegiance to the death of honest men
whose breath flows on again through the autumn field.
I pledge allegiance in these wild and wasteful years
to the child who breaks in tears and humbly kneels
in the soil of America.

    We are on holy ground.
    We are the children of the dream.
    We are the ones who can make it all come true.
    We are on holy ground,
    and the Lord of all we see
    has chosen me, and He’s chosen you.
    He’s calling me, and He’s calling you.
    He’s watching me, and He’s watching you.

Bearing Testimony

By this time next week I will have born this particular testimony in song three times. The first was some years ago at the request of my wife’s former counselor in the primary presidency, for whom I wrote it on the occasion of her eldest son’s Eagle Court of Honor. The second is tomorrow night, for the Republican glitterati. The third will be next Sunday night, for another Eagle Court of Honor in a backyard in Alpine, this time for our primary-friend’s youngest son. I should be more political. Maybe I’d get to sing my song more.

Having finished this combination journal-writing-exhortation-and-political-manifesto, I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and get back to straightening and propping up again the forest of city council candidate signs I’ve consented to have posted on the corner of my yard. (In Alpine, we are politically very active–people running for the city council include along with the actual
politicians, several children, a couple of Illegal Aliens, and a polygamous family living in Pleasant Grove.) It’s fine with me that they’re all represented out there. You see, convinced now that thinking differently from others is a political virtue, I’m cultivating the ability to think differently from even myself.

(*Now for a quick game of “Find the asterisk to which this footnote is connected.” Hint: “The asterisk to which this footnote is connected find.” That one-sixteenth German part? My great-great-grandfather, Nathan Staker, came to this continent, being the North American one–continent, I mean–as a Hessian mercenary, to shoot at revolting colonists, but when he saw that they were all freedom-loving and stewy and everything, and standing up bravely against the
crushing tyranny of about a five-percent taxation, he promptly deserted.

How do I know this stirring political story? Would it be from somebody’s journal? You guessed it. Now, is that American, or what? Except he deserted to Canada. But in Canada–an equally spiritual, freedom-loving, and even more stewy country than the USA–in answer to earnest prayer, he was told that his posterity would accept the true gospel, which was about to be restored, and, hmm… I’m suddenly mixing politics with religion here. But I guess maybe, if you’re not a General Authority and nobody’s watching, that’s okay.)

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“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)

 


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