Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palin - Does it really matter what she believes?

The latest scuttlebutt about Palin is her pastor's background as a witch-hunter in Kenya. While it has roused a number of eyebrows among those who are unfamiliar with Pentecostalism, the Christian Science Monitor is one of the few that have explained it in a context that, while still disturbing, at least is a recognizable part of something that occurs in many places other than the wilds of Alaska.

More typical are stories like this from Keith Olbermann. While I generally like his hard-hitting commentary, it is clear that these folks have not bothered to talk to the people who, in my part of the world, are some of my neighbors and parents of my children's friends, who are faithful members of the Assembly of God and whose beliefs about witches and demons are just under the surface of their often successful campaigns to rid the public schools of Halloween celebrations. This isn't National Enquirer stuff -- this is everywhere, and the line between Pentecostal fundamentalism and the more retrained varieties is not all that clear.

Rather than take on all the fundamentalists (whom I suspect would not be shocked by these revelations, even if they might not buy into the whole Pentecostal mapping and demon-targetting practices), I would suggest that maybe those of us who do not want a McCain-Palin presidency should stop gasping in horror at these things (it makes us little different, after all, from those who were upset about Rev. Wright), but rather look, if we should bother to focus on Palin at all, at how she has used her religion in politics.

What seems to have escaped a lot of people was this early Time magazine article on Palin and how she interjected fundamentalist religion and her views on abortion in mayoral politics in Wasilla. Here's an excerpt:
In Stein's view, Palin's main transgression was injecting big-time politics into a small-town local race. "It was always a nonpartisan job," he says. "But with her, the state GOP came in and started affecting the race." While Palin often describes that race as having been a fight against the old boys' club, Stein says she made sure the campaign hinged on issues like gun owners' rights and her opposition to abortion (Stein is pro-choice). "It got to the extent that — I don't remember who it was now — but some national antiabortion outfit sent little pink cards to voters in Wasilla endorsing her," he says.

Vicki Naegele was the managing editor of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman at the time. "[Stein] figured he was just going to run your average, friendly small-town race," she recalls, "but it turned into something much different than that." Naegele held the same conservative Christian beliefs as Palin but didn't think they had any place in local politics.

"I just thought, That's ridiculous, she should concentrate on roads, not abortion," says Naegele.
That was not the end of it. Even after serving two years as mayor, abortion continued to drive mayoral politics:
When Palin, who went on to win re-election by a landslide, was forced out of the Mayor's office by term limits in 2002, her husband Todd's stepmother Faye Palin ran for mayor. She did not, however, get Sarah Palin's endorsement. A couple of people told me that they thought abortion was the reason for Palin not supporting her family member — Faye, they say, is pro-choice, not to mention a Democrat. A former city council member recalls that it was a heated race, mainly because of right-to-life issues: "People were writing BABYKILLER on Faye's campaign signs just a few days before the election." Faye Palin lost the race to the candidate that Sarah backed, Dianne Keller, who is still mayor of Wasilla.
Ibid. at Time.

This, I contend, is what should scare the crap out of all of us. Personally, I'm anti-criminalization of abortion and feel strongly that the law should be neutral (in that sense, pro-choice), but I also respect those who think that abortion is horrific and should not be considered simply as one among many choices of birth-control. Someday I hope that people will be able to talk civilly to each other about the issue and do something positive together. But, in the meantime, whatever anyone thinks about abortion and what role, if any, the law should have in prohibiting or restricting it, I think that for anyone to interject this raw, heart-wrenching moral issue into local municipal politics and to exploit it, all for the sake of becoming mayor of Wasilla, is, well, just about as sleazy as it can get. No one, no matter what their views on abortion, should want this kind of opportunist to hold any kind of government office.

I do not even question the sincerity of Palin's religious beliefs. I do not think that anyone's religious beliefs can or should ever be entirely set aside when making public policy decisions in government. But when those beliefs are used, not to form character and inform moral thinking, but rather to inflame emotions and divide the electorate for the purpose of short-term political gain, they cease to be a force for moral action, no matter where they come from.

Finally, bottomline, what is more critical to moral behavior than telling the truth? Granted, the truth is hard to come by. But sometimes, just the facts will do. We need more of them. Lots more. Here's one great story of an Alaskan named Doug who is keeping it simple. See Palin Lies: One Man's Protest, reported at Mudflats by akmuckracker (one of my favorite Alaskan bloggers and a seeker of that elusive truth).

I, for one, think the country can be best served by digging for the truth of what Palin has actually done or not done as a government official. I don't care what her pastor says, or, other than for their sakes, what her children and their friends do. There is plenty to look at in Palin's record as mayor and governor, including the continuing efforts to flat-out refuse to answer questions from the Alaska legislature about her decision to fire Commissioner Walt Monegan and the McCain "truth squad" that is twisting and turning the facts so quickly that it makes one's head spin (first he made an authorized trip to Washington D.C., then it was authorized, but he obtained permission under "false pretenses" to try to get federal funds to combat rape and violence against women in Alaska).

We need the facts, the real facts, and the truth as best we can discern it. Those who oppose the truth want nothing better than to see us Libruls get caught up in the smokescreen of witches and demons and our disdain for those who believe in them. Let's not give them the satisfaction.

1 comment:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Klady, remember how Obama was hounded until he severed his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, his pastor for 20 years, because of his image as the angry black man? It should not matter who someone's pastor is when voting, but, unfortunately, it does.

You are right to focus on how her religion affects the way she governs. In a perfect world, that's what we all would be doing.