The Palin Paradox: Does Her Candidacy Mark the Death of the Christian Right?

10/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sarah Palin's political and religious and religio-political background is the stuff of Christian right dreams. Raised in a Pentecostal Church, running for Mayor of town of 4000 by opposing abortion (is that a mayoral issue?), claiming to be its "first" Christian Mayor and ousting a 3-term incumbent (Lutheran, aren't they Christians too?), Palin saw "God's plan" in her political destiny as she later did in the war in Iraq. Her opposition to abortion is nearly absolute, allowing an exception only for the life of the mother.

Despite John McCain's consistent record denying women the right to make this most personal decision themselves, the Christian right never accepted him. Perhaps, it was because McCain does not have a fire-and-brimstone style, or perhaps it is because he did not accompany his anti-choice position with opprobrium against different lifestyles, or perhaps it was his embrace of the evil mainstream media. Or, maybe, they were not sure they really controlled him.

Whatever the reasons, choosing Palin erased all Christian right hesitation. Although he really wanted to choose Lieberman, McCain kowtowed to the Christian right and then one-upped them by going all the way for Sarah Palin. He was controllable. He went immediately from outcast to hero.

Enter, daughter Bristol's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The Christian right had to make a quick choice (choice?!) -- either applaud the pregnancy or dump Palin.

By choosing to applaud the pregnancy, and to take the line of Steve Schmidt, "life happens", the Christian right ceded most of the claptrap they have been preaching for 30 years. No longer can they rail against big-town, or Hollywood, or Washington DC (read, experts) or New York (read, Jewish) or San Francisco (read, gay) "values" as the cause of peoples' "misbehavior" and social disintegration. No longer can they even call it misbehavior. No longer can they wring their hands about poor role models for children, about out-of-wedlock sex being a sin against God, about how books can be the devil's work.

No longer are testosterone and estradiol the devil's hormones; from now on, they are God's.

It is has been a tough few years for the Christian right. From the Reverend Teddy Haggard's secret gay life to Mark Foley's diddling House pages and the cover up, to Ralph Reed's (Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition dude) promotion of gambling... there is not much remaining about which they can claim righteous indignation.

What currency do they now have to rail against sex education in the schools as the cause of promiscuity? Or, vaccination of teenage girls against HPV (cause of both genital warts and cervical cancer that the vaccine can protect against) as leading to promiscuity? Or, even, the absence of Church and prayer as the cause for moral disintegration?

Because the Palin family had it all. No sex education in the Wassila schools. No vaccinations against HPV. If Mayor Palin could not get dangerous books out of the library, you can bet they were not at her home. A Pentecostal Church preaching righteousness, speaking in tongues -- and a bit of end of times eschatology just so they had something to look forward to in life.

What's left, then, for the Christian right is abortion. Although there were links of Tom DeLay to the abortions practices on the Mariana Islands (to keep the low-wage imported Chinese workers able to work), it never received publicity while "hot tub Tom" was still a prominent political figure the Christian right had to defend. And, Sarah carrying her Down Syndrome baby to term, and Bristol's becoming a mom at 17 rather than choosing an abortion enables the Christian right to retain its anti-choice message without a hiccough.

By being forced by circumstance to embrace Sarah Palin, the Christian right is acknowledging that "legitimate" families are not just the "mom&dad&buddy&sis" of the 1950s, but have morphed into a variety of shapes and forms that all need to be supported and accommodated.

None of this is to say, of course, that unwed teen pregnancies should not be discouraged. They should. Nor is it to argue that one parent homes should be encouraged. They should not. But, the fire-and-brimstone approach used by the Christian right to denigrate other peoples' circumstances should no longer have any currency.

Instead of accusing, perhaps we can be understanding. Instead of making up facts to fit our beliefs, perhaps we can look at the best information available, and start making some good policy. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can start a dialogue instead of a shouting match.

There was one overlooked part of Sarah Palin's announcement of her daughter's pregnancy. She said that her daughter had decided to carry the child to term. She later remarked that no one had pressured her daughter to do so.

I take Sarah at her word. Is it not wonderful, and will this not be a happier baby and marital circumstance, that they all had these unpressured choices? The issue is not abortion vs carrying to term, it is who gets to make that choice. Sarah Palin would have the government choose. My vote is for Bristol Palin.

I, for one, wish Bristol Palin and her husband-to-be a very healthy and happy child, a happy and meaningful life together, and a return to the anonymity they so richly deserve.