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poetry Young Americans for Freedom

Poet Lee Rossi recalls his introduction to right-wing politics, Goldwater’s call for a war against America, much of it still echoing today.

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Young Americans for Freedom

By Lee Rossi

There we were, four or five seminarians, in the back

of the auditorium, almost spilling over the lip

of the mezzanine, waiting for the man of the moment

 

to appear. He was a Jew, and we his sworn enemies—

politics make strange bedfellows, that’s what I was

told—and before we’d lose our country to godless

 

Communists, we’d makes allies of the Devil

and his spawn. That sounded okay to me, although

I’d never met an atheist, much less a Communist.

 

The Devil, however, was familiar, a constant companion,

always urging me to take another path, constantly

pointing out how narrow the high wire I trod, how deep

 

the drop. I stared at the hats, the nets, the bald spots

below me. The music crescendoed and there he was,

the Senator from Arizona, polished, patrician, silver-

 

haired, tribune of the gainfully retired, refugees

from the Snow Belt, its frostbite and cinders.

We are surrounded by enemies, he told us,

 

not just in Asia and Europe, but in our own country,

people who would take our homes and businesses,

take away our beliefs, troublemakers

 

who wanted to sit next to us at lunch counters,

who would force us to accept them as equals.

Freedom is a gift we have to protect from those

 

jealous of our freedoms. I’d learned enough

about the Virtue of Selfishness to know that taxes

are bad, that government saps your moral strength,

 

Delilah clipping Samson’s hair. We’d been taught to look

in the mirror and see Satan. We had so many names for evil:

beatniks and homosexuals, secularism and civil rights,

 

the UN, the Federal Reserve—so many lions,

so few Daniels. Water cannons and police dogs

weren’t enough, not riot police nor even Bull Connor

 

spitting into a bull horn—when would we realize

that all our weapons would never save us,

not until we declared war on America?

Lee Rossi’s latest collection of poetry is Darwin’s Garden.