Progressives have tiptoed for years through the minefield of U.S. religio-politics, mostly too intimidated by its advocates to speak up. But by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain did more than just purchase the enthusiastic support of the Christian base of the Republican Party. He also raised the urgency with which reason-based journalists and the voters they represent must learn to recognize and expose the theocratic intentions that Palin and her party represent.
On the inaugural installment of The Rachel Maddow Show, Pat Buchanan provided a case study in the "sound-and-fury" techniques that right-wing propagandists use to neutralize their often-docile media counterparts (Maddow being a notable exception). The topic was Palin's treatment by the media, and it ended up focused on religion.
Palin doesn't hide the role religion plays in her personal life. As she said this summer at the Assembly of God in Wasilla, "It was so cool growin' up in this church, and gettin' saved here." She also doesn't hide religion's role in her public duties. She told the Wasilla congregation that, "I can do my part in doin' things like workin' really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline, about a $30 billion project that's gonna create a lot of jobs for Alaskans, and we'll have a lot of energy flowin' through here. And pray about that also. I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."
By her own words, Palin's God guides her actions as a public servant and helps her execute public policy. And yet perception manipulators like Buchanan would make religion off limits to a discussion of whether Palin should be second in line to the presidency. He would have religion be a one-way factor in government: capable of influencing decisions that affect all citizens, but protected from examination by any citizen.
Buchanan raised the issue (at 4:00) in an accusatory tone, then moved quickly to the smoke screens of God, family, the military, and Abraham Lincoln: "You're bringin' out this religious stuff.... I heard what she said, she said, 'Let us pray that this war is part of God's plan.' What is wrong with that, for a woman whose 19-year-old boy is about to be sent off and may never return, that she asks for prayers...? She did not say that war is God's plan.... It's just like Lincoln said, 'Look, let us pray that we are on God's side.'"
Ignoring the emotional appeals, Buchanan's dissembling distorts the truth of what Palin actually did say: "Our national leaders are sending them (soldiers) out (to Iraq) on a task that is from God." She clearly means that God wants the U.S. to be involved militarily in Iraq. But if U.S. taxpayers are spending billions of dollars a week executing God's will, then we have a right to subpoena God and ask him/her/it under oath to justify the human and financial costs. And if God does not show up, we have another reason to get our troops out of Iraq -- and God out of our politics.
Buchanan also conveniently misquoted Lincoln, who according to sources actually said, "Sir my concern is not whether God is on our side. My great concern is to be on God's side." Note how Buchanan skillfully skewed the religiously-ambivalent Lincoln's statement by switching the verb to "pray".
Buchanan quickly followed with a non sequitur: "The fact is, you know how many Assembly of God folks there are out there, you know how many Pentecostals there are out there, you know how many pre-millennialists there are out there? Tim LaHaye's book sold 40 million copies! Now you go on national television and you go trashing that religion because of what they believe about the end times.... Name one thing to suggest that (Palin) wants to establish the Assembly of God or her Baptist church or whatever she's in now as a national church. There is nothing."
The national church question is a red herring. But Buchanan implied that the number of people who share Palin's religious beliefs somehow inoculates her from criticism, or that religious belief itself has no place in the discussion. However, the moment a public servant inserts the role of a personal religious belief into the public realm, as Palin explicitly did, that religious belief becomes political fair game, because it is a basis on which that public servant makes decisions that affect everyone. Either religion is personal and thereby off limits, or it is public and in play. This is the Achilles heel of those who would obliterate the wall between church and state.
Buchanan ended in a flourish of hypocrisy. He said, "We have the other candidate, Barack Obama, who has (sic) for 15 years belonged to a church which is run by a racist, anti-white, anti-American pastor and (had) his wife and his kids baptized by him."
Maddow interrupted: "Bad strategy to talk about trashing religion and then come on and bring that stuff up."
"I think we can trash Rev. Wright," Buchanan insisted from behind a second face.
Buchanan's star rose decades ago, writing press-bashing speeches for Spiro Agnew. Ironically, Buchanan once called the press a "tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one." He and fellow-traveling right-wing babblers have created careers out of such double standards. The tricks of their dark arts must now be dragged into the light of day, and they must be held accountable for the effects of their endless war on truth. Otherwise, we might all end up "gettin' saved" at Sarah Palin's church.