McCain the Maverick

Matthew A. Sutton

When I first heard that McCain had asked Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential nominee, I thought the choice was pure genius. This was McCain the Maverick at his best. Realizing that Obamamania could not be overcome, he was going to use the 2008 campaign to settle old scores. Choosing Palin would accomplish two things. First, it would guarantee that he lost the election, leaving it to the Democrats to fix the economy and straighten out the Middle East. As a result, the horrible legacy of his old nemesis, GW Bush, would be guaranteed. After the way the Bushies mistreated him in 2000, he would have the last laugh and all the free Arizona beer he could drink. Second, he would get one last swipe at those he dubbed the “Agents of Intolerance.” By picking a creationism-advocating, heat-packing, Pentecostal church-going Alaskan straight out of Jerry Falwell’s playbook, I thought McCain was sealing the doom of the Religious Right as we have known it. With the ascension of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen, I figured the United States had seen the last of the shrill politics of anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-community organizer Jesus. Palin would lure Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and James Dobson into the spotlight one final time where they would finally be discarded.

Alas, McCain was wrong. Little did he know that his choice of Palin, rather than dooming the Bush legacy and the Religious Right, would in fact resurrect both. It looks like Jesus will equal Republican for at least another decade, which is bad news for Jesus and great news for the GOP. Who would have guessed that of all people the Maverick would be the one man who could pull that off?


David said…
I'm appalled at the choice of pictures for Governor Palin that seems unnecessary on a high-quality blog like this.
Matt Sutton said…
I changed the photo once I discovered that the original was not legit.
David said…

That wasn't even very good Photoshop.
Manlius said…
There's no doubt that Evangelicals have flocked to Palin, but is there evidence that she has governed Alaska in a divisive, religious-oriented sort of way? She has an 80% approval rating. I don't think a Falwell drone would do so well up there.

And remember, the candidate who has injected his religious beliefs into this campaign more than any other is Barack Obama. Ray Suarez noted how appalled he was when Barack Obama once started one of his 2007 appearances by saying to the crowd, "Praise the Lord!" Can you imagine the reaction if a conservative Republican did that?

If Democrats attack Palin along these lines, they might just spoil the chance to win the presidency in a year that should be, thanks to Bush, a sure thing.
Manlius said…
BTW, the Democrats and the media had better not take Palin to task for speaking in tongues. Sure, they may not fear alienating the predominantly white and conservative Assemblies of God. But do they realize that the Church of God in Christ has even more members in the US than the AoG?

Attacks on religion will be an open door for the Republicans to appeal to blacks or at least diminish their enthusiasm for Democrats. I know Obama doesn't want to go there, but will he be able to prevent his over-eager supporters from doing so?

Sometimes I wonder if these political hacks really know the demographics of our country.
John G. Turner said…
The remarkable enthusiasm for Sarah Palin -- which extends beyond the conservative base of the GOP -- has demonstrated one thing to me: the obituaries of the Religious Right and hyper-promotion of the Evangelical Left represented mostly wishful thinking by Jim Wallis, the Democratic Party, and the national media.

I agree with Manlius -- there's little evidence that Palin has pushed a divisive evangelical agenda in Alaska.

Despite the first paragraph, I do think many young evangelicals have broadened and moderated their views and have evidenced great interest in the environment and poverty. When they compare the records and rhetoric of Palin and Obama on abortion, however, they come streaming back to the Republican Party.
Anonymous said…
Manlius just doesn't get it. It isn't that religion is bad. Or that religious expressiveness (like speaking in tongues) is bad. It's that certain religious messages of exclusivity don't fly with democracy, no matter how democratic or patriotic the holders of those messages think they are. It isn't about policy-making. It's about representing truly American values of freedom of conscience.

Notice that no Democratic candidate has attacked Palin's religion like Republicans attacked Rev. Wright. Yes, Wright's message, it can be argued, was divisive, exclusive, anti-democractic, and that's why even Obama said that those sorts of religious messages can't be tolerated here. I doubt you'll find a Republican saying similar things, forcefully, about their own preachers (McCain's distancing from Hagee was hardly a firm denouncement of a type of religious message).

As a party, Republicans have been leading "attacks on religion" this cycle, not Democrats.
Manlius said…
By definition, aren't all religions exclusive to some degree? Someone can have an exclusive religious belief and still believe in democratic pluralism.

If I'm wrong, I guess I'd better call the Unitarians down the road and tell them they shouldn't have presented me with that petition a few years ago in favor of same-sex marriage. I hear also that they're progressive on reproductive rights and don't allow traditional views on sexuality to be taught in their church. How dare they even think about going to the ballot box!
Manlius said…
And by the way, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, I am curious as to just how many people in this country would qualify for your so-called democracy? Are Mormons okay? Catholics? Muslims?

Be sure to let us know just how open and pluralistic you really are.
Matt Sutton said…
The way the issue of abortion has been dealt with in the last week has been very frustrating. Despite whining about the media's obsession with the Palin family, the GOP has incessantly promoted her "choice" to have a Down syndrome child, using this as evidence of her commitment to a "culture of life." What this implies is that pro-choice folks are callous eugenicists who use abortion as a pure convenience.

This totally misconstrues the pro-choice position and allows the GOP to take the focus off of the gut wrenching decisions of what to do with a pregnancy caused by rape or incest and/or the more morally ambiguous issue of early-term abortions (which are the vast majority of abortions). To choose an early-term abortion for whatever reason is, in my mind, very different than the choice to abort a Down syndrome fetus at month 6 or 7.

Finally, I really wish the life-begins-at-conception folks would come out with a strong position against invetro fertalization, since that process destroys embryos. But they won't. Why not? Because they don't use their pro-life position to beat up on middle class, church-going, white women who can afford invetro; instead they target the silly seventeen-year-olds who don't use condemns and the mythical feminists who abort their Down syndrome fetuses out of convenience.
Manlius said…
Well, Matt, I did hear it reported that 90% of down's syndrome fetuses are aborted. That's quite horrific if indeed that is true.

The down's syndrome folks I've known in my life are the sweetest people in the world. That so many would regard down's syndrome as a disqualifier for having life is a travesty. To me, it would be just like killing a fetus that is found to have a homosexual gene.

As for your other characterizations, Matt, I'd say that you're the one who is doing the stereotyping. I haven't observed this attack on your "mythical feminists." What I have observed just now is your attack on the "mythical pro-lifer".
rjc said…
Like Matt, I'm often frustrated by the way that pro/anti-choice issues end up framed. The language of "pro-life" is very powerful and it's mobilized effectively, but it steers the debate in direction that conceal all kinds of very real, very difficult issues. Your point about in vitro fertilization is a really interesting one.

Though maybe more of a stretch for some folks, I'd also like to see more difficult, and complicated, discussions about the relationship between what it means to be "pro-life" and the uncritical, even blind acceptance of extremely unhealthy food production and consumption practices in America (and the world). Of course, along these lines the environment and pollution also need to be considered in a pro-life stance (even if "pro-life" only means "pro-human life").

Are these issues just too abstract, at too much of a remove from the immediacy of life/death, to gain traction? Abortion, and euthanasia, are far more directly life/death choices; carcinogens take their time killing. Or is it that what people eat is seen as a personal choice, only hurting themselves, while abortion is about taking a life not your own? If that's it, then, again, I'd like to see more complex and critical thinking about who is actually affected and how by the way we produce and consume food and energy.
Randall said…
I have been suspicious about these Religious Right obits for some time. Reminded me of Diana Eck's version of American religion and American religious history: everybody loves everybody. Those who don't love everybody should be ignored or downplayed.
John G. Turner said…
Matt, I also wish this election cycle would not turn on the traditional culture war issues, but keep in mind it takes two to fight a war. Palin's had plenty of incoming fire over the past week.

I wouldn't have a problem if both sides embraced your position: "To choose an early-term abortion for whatever reason is, in my mind, very different than the choice to abort a Down syndrome fetus at month 6 or 7." I agree.

But moderately pro-life people like myself cannot understand why Barack Obama (and, to be fair, almost all prominent members of his party) have failed to oppose late-term abortions. Frankly, I feel more strongly about the matter after having had a baby and watched her grow via numerous ultrasounds. Even if we're being manipulated by the Republicans, it makes it hard for people like me to pull the lever (more accurately, fill in the bubble) for the Democrats.

I entirely agree with your point about in vitro. Deserves much more serious thought from serious pro-life folks. One could just have as many embryos created as one is willing to take to term, couldn't one?

As far as Palin goes, I disagree with your conclusion about the GOP's promotion of her decision to keep her most recent baby. Any way you slice it, it is a powerful symbol of her authentic commitment to a "culture of life." It doesn't make her right on related issues, but it makes her personally admirable. That's a major reason the speech was such a big success (and according to a Rasmussen poll today her favorability ratings exceed those of Obama and McCain).

I propose that we soon retreat to pre-1900 topics to avoid a descent into election-year partisanship (not that I'm innocent on that score).
Kelly Baker said…
Just FYI, Catholics have fairly staunch positions against in-vitro fertilization, so characterizing all pro-lifers as not taking up the issue is not quite accurate. Perhaps, Protestant pro-lifers have not taken the issue seriously yet, but Catholics have.
Manlius said…
Regarding the next generation of evangelicals and politics, here's my take.

Most young evangelicals are still pretty conservative on social issues, but perhaps unlike some of their forebears, they are strongly committed to pluralism. They don't mind a "live and let live" approach, but they want their conservative views at least to be respected by the broader culture.

Until now, these young evangelicals have had no place to go. Do they join some of their evangelical cousins on the Wallis-McLaren Left? Well, they might like to hang out with these folks and even go to church with them, but they're just not comfortable with liberal politics. Do they join the Falwell-Robertson Right? No, for the reasons stated above. They have a stonger commitment to pluralism and they would really rather avoid an adversarial relationship with their society.

Enter Sarah Palin. Here you have a hip, confident, and intelligent woman who holds very conservative views, but saves her fighting instincts and energy for government reform rather than controversial social issues. She cracks down on shady government-corporate shenanigans between the statehouse and Big Oil, but she remains committed to the free market. She embodies the culture of life and is a committed working mother, and she's pluralistic enough to veto legislation that would deny benefits to same-sex partners. She's conservative, yes, but she knows that Alaska and much of America is not the Bible Belt.

What we may have here is a new phenomenon where young conservative evangelicals, not in line with Pat Robertson or Jim Wallis, have finally found a prominent figure to give them their voice.

We could call them "Palin evangelicals".
Anonymous said…
"Separation of Church and State" was meant to prevent politics from corrupting religion, not to keep religious ideals or morals out of politics. Our Founding Fathers established this great independent nation because they were unable to practice their religious faith in Britain - politics corrupted their ability to practice their faith. Notice how many contemporary American leaders invoke the name of God to push forward their own policies, agendas, and careers. This is reminiscent of Muslim Jihadists and extremists. I believe this can be categorized as "taking the Lord's name in vain".


We, our government, and our faith are in dark times as pride, lust for power, and greed slowly dissolve the moral and ethical fiber the American government.
Anonymous said…
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