At peace with God and Mammon in the new South

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The Independent Online
In this thriving corner of the Bible Belt, which tomorrow has its say in the US presidential primaries, there are two of Ronald Reagan's shining cities on a hill. One is very much the work of God, the other fruit of a decision taken a few years ago in southern Germany. And in the civil war raging within the Republican party, where both sides claim the Reagan legacy for themselves, they are fortresses of opposing armies.

Venture among its immaculate assembly halls, dormitory blocks and along its shaded avenues, with not a scrap of litter in sight and not a leaf out of place, and you instantly realise that Bob Jones University, the pride of Greenville, is a most unusual place of learning. In fact it is the largest fundamentalist Christian college in America, founded in 1927 by a man who believed secular education was ruining the country's youth, and now home to 5,000 students who lead a life symbolised by the inscription over the campus shop: "Edifying and equipping the saints to go forth."

In its hushed interior there is nothing more secular on sale than chocolate bars and Kodak film, alongside shelves brimming with uplifting spiritual works. A few steps away, offering yet greater edification, is the university's remarkable museum, where soft music plays, the pile carpet is one inch thick, and the walls are studded with religious paintings by, among others, Cranach, Titian, Botticelli and Veronese. Not quite what you expect in the provinces of South Carolina, but proof that God has rich patrons.

More to the point, this is the world of Pat Buchanan. The boys have short hair and perfect manners. The girls, in the required dress of flat shoes and skirts below the knee, are frozen images from the 1950s.

Mr Buchanan's vision of America is essentially a vision of the 1950s, a nostalgic world where America was God's country, where crime scarcely existed, where women stayed at home and looked after the children, when the US accounted for 60 per cent of the world's economic output, and when foreigners knew their place - a world where everything was perfect and nothing quite real.

Outside the 10ft walls surrounding the university, the mirage persists. In an eatery across from the campus entrance, a middle-aged man in a jeans jacket and a baseball cap pores over a worn volume of The Teaching of Christ, as he consumes a chicken salad.

Later that evening, Mr Buchanan speaks at the Evangel fundamentalist Cathedral just outside Spartanburg, a few miles away. "I want to make America God's country again," proclaims the commentator-turned-candidate, as the audience of several hundred stand and cheer. It is his best received line of the night, better than the tirades against foreigners, the excoriations of the "raging heathen" of Washington DC, better even than his vow to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion.

The cathedral is spanking new, more like an plush concert hall than a house of God, surrounded by huge parking lots for the faithful. It bespeaks the wealth of a region which epitomises the vibrant "new South." But for the true believers, entrepreneurial flair, imaginative state governors and the rest have little to do with it. "We're prosperous because God wills it," says a young woman as she leaves, clutching a Bible and leaning towards Buchanan, though still not quite sure how she will vote tomorrow.

But in nearby Greer, shines the other city, which Pat Buchanan the protectionist does not visit - a creation not of the Almighty but of German capitalism. BMW's factory, the Munich car manufacturer's first in the Western hemisphere and as squeaky clean as the Bob Jones campus, is the shrine where his rival "mainstream" candidates make obeisance. On Wednesday Bob Dole, yesterday Lamar Alexander. "This is proof of how a free trade system creates jobs," insisted Mr Dole as he toured the glistening plant. The day before Mr Dole turned up, the company announced a $200m expansion at Greer, creating at least 500 new jobs by 1998, and bringing its total investment to $800m.

In fact, the two worlds of upstate South Carolina not only coexist, but overlap. Students at Bob Jones do venture into Satan's modern world, where their ingrained Christian virtues make them much prized by employers.

For their part, the workers at BMW do go to church, and are doubtless no less concerned than Mr Buchanan by crime, abortion and the other ills of late 20th century America.

And in that paradox surely lies the key for the Republicans in this strange election year. For what it is worth, a new poll yesterday showed Mr Dole, heavily promoted as usual by the great and good of the local party, leading Mr Buchanan in the state by 35 to 24 per cent. Mr Alexander trails with 13 per cent, closely followed by Steve Forbes. But whatever the fluctuations of the race, one thing is certain. The man who can carry Bob Jones and BMW wins - not just South Carolina, but the nomination, and maybe the White House too.