Speaking as a former right wing Evangelical who helped organize the Religious Right in the 1970s and early eighties, nothing instills conviction like believing you're on a mission from God. If you're going to fool others, you have to fool yourself.
It takes sincerity to tell a series of barefaced lies with enough conviction to carry the day. As we close in on the 2008 election, the increasingly desperate Republicans will do what they have learned to do best: court the sincere but misinformed Evangelical voters by lying to them.
Let me explain...
The Evangelicals live in a resentment-fueled, inward-looking subculture. They are convinced that the world is out to get them and put them at a perpetual disadvantage. They equate knowledge, facts and education with an elite that they feel belittled by.
The Evangelical "base" have unwittingly become the enemy of democracy. They are democracy's enemy because a grossly misinformed Evangelical public that celebrates its ignorance is the antithesis of an informed people who can manage their own affairs. Bush was their boy... twice! Enough said.
It is to the white ghetto of willfully ignorant Evangelical Americans to whom Sarah Palin is aiming her smears and lies (and not so subtle racism) about Senator Obama and his "terrorist connection" and his being "not a real American like us." Palin's lies depend for their success on those who are willfully blind to facts. It's the same obdurate blindness that allows a segment of the American public to still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks of 9/11. But it goes further than that.
The Republican leadership and John McCain are counting on Palin's grass roots sincerity that most Republican leaders no longer have. Palin is a true believer. And true believers put the mission they sincerely believe in -- that God has "laid on their hearts" -- above mere details such as truth or honesty, let alone honor. They also speak with conviction.
Palin doesn't actually believe the rehearsed smears she's telling about Obama, but she does believe that she is morally right in lying.
If lies will help her win, Palin believes God's will is being done. McCain just wants to win an election. Palin has bigger fish to fry. Her "call" is to restore America to its "Christian heritage." In that sense Palin is the product of my late father Francis Schaeffer, who helped politicize the Evangelicals into the Religious Right through his incendiary books such as A Christian Manifesto (1980) wherein he called for the takeover of America in the name of Christ if, need be, by force if all else failed.
You can't understand Palin without understanding her movement's mentors that crafted the modern Evangelical involvement in politics "for the cause of Christ." These mentors include my late father and also the so-called Dominion Theology movement, led by people even more radical than my father was. Dominion Theology is a subset of Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism or the "Theonomy" movement. Followers believe that the God revealed in the Bible is the sole source of all human law, and that "God's law" must be established in America. This is the American version of the Taliban.
The key Dominionist leader, the late Rousas John Rushdoony, said that Christians should have "dominion" over the earth and every nation in it in the name of not just Jesus Christ but also in the name of the God of the Old Testament. Thus in the best of all worlds we'd be enforcing Old Testament law. We'd be the new version of Calvin's harsh Reformation Geneva wherein heretics were burned and women with illegitimate pregnancies were drowned along with their unborn babies.
The Dominionists have a wide and under-the-mainstream-media radar following in many Evangelical circles. Palin is an ardent Dominionist. I know what her agenda is because I know who shaped the theology of Evangleical political movement she is a product of.
I remember sitting down with Dominionism leader Rushdoony (over 30 years ago) and him telling me this:
"Frank, we must establish God's kingdom by degrees. We can't start by saying that God demands that we put homosexuals to death!" (He laughed heartily) "We need to begin with things like helping form home schools and electing our people. Someday we'll be in a position to establish biblical law in America."
McCain and Palin are two very different people. McCain was never able to energize the Evangelical base because the base knew that as a world-weary, philandering, gambling-addicted, hard-living fly boy, politician McCain lacked the sincerity of fundamentalist conviction. When trying to speak their language of absolutist morality McCain's words rang hollow. But Palin is the real thing.
Palin is by the very nature of her beliefs a born, in fact eager, liar. She can do no other. She must lie or admit she is wrong, about just about everything she believes in, from a young earth, to dinosaurs roaming the planet alongside men, to the nature of global warming, to Israel's place of primacy in the prophetic "End Times" and, lately, as to the causes of the economic meltdown. Get inside Palin's head and you'll hear a little girl telling herself biblical stories where she's always the hero. Palin's fantasy world is about being "called" -- Esther-like -- to "save" her people. And lying for God is okay, in fact it's good. Her biblical heroes (King David, Samson, Queen Esther...) all lied for God when they needed to in order to defeat God's enemies.
Palin is the female version of Bill Murray in the movie Caddyshack fantasizing... "A hush falls on the crowd..." about her destiny of insane godly glory. Only it's not insane, but real, real as McCain's calculated I'll-win-at-all-costs ploy in choosing a fanatic as a running mate.
The election of 2008 is best be understood as (what I and all sane Americans hope) is the last gasp of the desperate born-again religious movement that that has been running America into the ground for the last eight years. A pessimist might see it otherwise. Maybe it's the first shot in the next phase of our internal wars of religion, otherwise known as the culture wars, wherein an ignorant hate-filled, frightened American minority is trying to impose on the United States its own version of religion, in the same way that Saudi fanatics have imposed strict Islam on their unfortunate fellow citizens.
Palin was actually correct when, in her debate with Senator Biden, she said we need to stand up and "fight for freedom." What she didn't mention was that the greatest threat to American freedom is coming from the unhinged religious fanatics who are feeding on her poisonous lies, re-energized by a vision of overt "he's not like us!" racist politics on behalf of their God.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy For God -- How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Now in Paperback