Leon Wieseltier On Sarah Palin: These Are Not The Times For Right-Wing Screwball

10/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Leon Wieseltier The New Republic

It took only a few days for the saga of Sarah Palin to go from Frank Capra to Preston Sturges to Judd Apatow, and then for the farce to stop being funny at all. These are not the times for right-wing screwball. The world is aflame and we have been pondering the knocked-up daughter of a pert and uncannily confident Alaskan mediocrity who was elevated to a national ticket for the purpose of changing the conversation. The Republicans wanted a new conversation, and they got one. Juno in Juneau! The anthropological harvest has been rich: what a carnival of double standards Palin provoked. I was unaware of the tender feelings of conservatives for sex outside of marriage. I thought that all the swingers in America lived in fleshpots such as this, my Beltway Babylon, where just this morning a vixen in pin-stripes walked over from K Street and dropped an expensed grape into my mouth, but I was wrong. I should not have scanted the libertine understanding of my Christian brothers and sisters. I am also happy to learn from them that pregnant teenagers are an American norm--"hardly shocking," as the Right Reverend Michael Gerson taught in The Washington Post. Some commentators have detected moral relativism in the untroubled, even edified conservative response to the obstetric developments in the McCain campaign; but I see something even more sinister. I see the teleological suspension of the ethical. You remember the teleological suspension of the ethical. It is the recognition that, whereas there is morality in religion, religion is not the same as morality, and may justify an exemption from morality. I know of no religion in which this handy power of extenuation is not used. The telos, in the case of Bristol Palin, is life; and a fine telos it is. The casuistry goes something like this: since there are no unwanted babies, there are no unwanted pregnancies. "It can sometimes result in the arrival of new life and a new family," Gerson cheered. For "evangelical Christianity (in most modern forms) is not about the achievement of perfection." If evangelicals are so exquisitely conscious of our creatureliness, why have they devoted so many decades to reviling the imperfections of others? If they are, as Gerson says, "about the acceptance of forgiveness," why do they diabolize difference? The fecundity of Bristol Palin is a windfall for Jesus, but the fecundity of black girls is the doom of the republic. Spiritually speaking, the forgiveness of oneself or of one's own is a smaller attainment than the forgiveness of the other or of all. My friends, the politics of virtue is a vice.

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