Sarah Palin is a liar and I can safely assure you that no one gives a damn. In fact, even those who repeatedly trumpet this fact take little offense at the actuality. Of course Sarah Palin is a liar. Who isn’t? I don’t have to borrow upon the well-worn trope of lying politicians to explain why people do not respond to these accusations: Republicans aren’t the only liars in this campaign. In a recent article in Slate, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Barack Obama”, Farhad Manjoo draws upon three different fact-checking organizations, Politifact, FactCheck.org, and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, to come to the conclusion that, during the past two or so months, McCain has “lied more often and more outrageously than Obama.” According to Politifact, the McCain campaign has made 22 “clearly deceptive statements” to the Obama campaign’s 12, since July. There are what one might consider important differences in the kind of lies each campaign tells—the Obama campaign made zero “pants-on-fire” lies to McCain’s three—but that is only if you think the number of lies a candidate tells matters in the first place.
The simple, undeniable fact that both campaigns have lied basically cancels each other out. The only way to keep the high ground, unfortunately, is to keep the high ground. The moment you slip, the moment you get some mud on your coat, it is merely a question of degree and the judgment of degree depends on personal preference, discretion, what you ate for breakfast—vagaries beyond the reach of even the most reasoned argument. Manjoo explains, “Even if we could pin down every lie that each candidate tells, we’d never be able to reach a consensus about the seriousness of each deception… Judging political lies is a bit like trying to evaluate bad American Idol performances; we agree that they all kind of suck, but we can still have endless fights about which ones suck the least.”
No one has the high ground—at least when it comes to telling the truth. In fact, we care so little about candidates’ blatant fibs that Manjoo actually suggests that Obama lie more. Sarah Palin is flying over the Bridge to Nowhere in the plane she “sold on Ebay”—and McCain gets a poll bump? Wild, I know. But not at all surprising, and not really an occasion for despair either. What is an occasion for some serious thought not only for Democrats, but also for Americans generally are the woman herself and her fifteen minutes (and I assure you it will be seventeen at most) at the forefront of the national consciousness.
Americans do not like Sarah Palin as much as you think. How do I know this? It certainly isn’t confirmed by any poll I’ve seen. I have never examined her polling. Fact is, I do not even have to look at her ratings to know most Americans, if they got to know Ms. Palin, would promptly exile her to the country she so inexplicably brags about being able to see from her living room window. Even take the common wisdom that her presence on the ticket energizes the conservative Christian base. A large number of conservative Christians would be horrified by the Church Palin actually belongs to. From the time she was ten years old until the year 2002, Sarah Palin was an active member of the Wasillia Assembly of God. The Assemblies of God are a group of Pentecostal churches that are a part of the National Evangelical Association. As Pentecostal churches, they emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The dispensation of these gifts can be manifest in many different ways—in popular media, the performances of pastors like Benny Hinn gain the most notoriety. A man with a booming voice cries out “Fire!” as he touches a believer’s forehead and the believer falls to the ground in tremors, presumably touched by the Holy Spirit.
Yet in 1949 and again in 2002, the Assemblies of God explicitly condemned certain Pentecostal factions who made of the rare and poignant Pentecostal experience a circus show. Furthermore, they condemned a group known as the Dominionists, and Dominionist factions such as Joel’s Army and the Manifest Sons of God. These groups believe that they are called upon to create an army. By taking over political or social structures and affecting a vengeful theocracy, they will exact wrath upon non-believers and errant Christians (including “fellow” Evangelicals) who fail to assent to their message.
All these actions condemned by the Assemblies of God and by the broader National Evangelical Association are the express practice of what is known as the Third Wave movement. Palin’s home church is not only involved in Third Wave activities which are “specifically condemned” by the General Council of the Assemblies of God, it repeatedly hosts a major figure of Morningstar Ministries, Steve Thompson. Morningstar Ministries is not just one of the most prominent ministries of the Third Wave movement; its founder Rick Joyner is a “prolific author of Third Wave and Manifest Sons of God theology”.
Without even broaching Palin’s present church’s association with Jews for Jesus, by staying within the realm of her offense to the Evangelical community itself, it is not hard to understand why conservative Christians wouldn’t like Sarah Palin one bit. And while the layperson may need a history lesson to understand what is meant by Joel’s Army or the Third Wave, you can be certain that the connotative power of these terms is far more palpable for conservative Christians, especially those who often have to, rather unfairly, answer for the sins of these rebel factions.
This is just one investigation of a host of questionable associations and actions surrounding Ms. Palin. Yet whether it is her inability to recognize and enforce the importance of chastity among her own family members, her refusal to choose sacrifice over self-interest in her governing style, or her family’s sustained connection to disloyal secessionist sympathizers, Sarah Palin is extremely unlikeable. Notice my terms: chastity, sacrifice, and loyalty. Want to know why everyone is asking the ugly duckling to prom? I assure you it isn’t her ungainly wink. It’s her diction. Do not be fooled. Sarah Palin is not charming. She is not charismatic. She’s nasty, extremely aggressive, and secretly pretty—aka the woman from Hell. But the woman has a good speechwriter and she knows how to deliver. More importantly, she knows her audience.
It wasn’t until recently I began to suspect I was a conservative—a University of Virginia study confirmed my suspicion. Conventional Intro POL Wisdom: Democrat/ Republican is not the same as liberal/conservative. But how does that translate into the way we communicate and the way we campaign? If an election is about a candidate winning our hearts and minds, then how do you appeal to the hearts and the minds—to the morality—of the conservative Democrat as well as the liberal Democrat?
In his essay “What Makes People Vote Republican,” Jonathan Haidt writes that, “the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats ‘just don’t get it,’ this is the ‘it’ to which they refer.” As a lifelong conservative Democrat, I can attest to this fact. I strongly prefer the Democratic agenda and I have yet to seriously support a Republican candidate in my consciously political life. Yet when I listened to Sarah Palin speak, something in me stirred. I couldn’t stand her, yet something sounded…right.
What sounded right was her diction. Much as I know I will generally vote Democratic, when I listen to other Democrats speak, I often go cold. Take for example the oft-repeated mantra that it is inconceivable that someone could vote for a candidate exclusively because that candidate is pro-life. That is actually extremely conceivable. Not only is that a central part of my Catholic morality, it plays a pivotal role in many people’s largely secular morality. And while I would rather not have everyone march like lemmings to national demise in the name of Ford trucks and apple pie, I assign high value to loyalty: to family, to friends, and to your country.
Liberals believe that conservatives are immune to rational thinking; in reality, we simply do not find liberal rationale to be rational, or for that matter, fully ethical. The essential problem of Democratic strategy today is that it assumes its audience ascribes to a liberal moral code emphasizing fairness and stewardship, when in truth that may not be the case. Conservatives do not ignore liberal rationale because they are stupid or lazy or worship the sound-bite—conservatives simply speak a different ethical language, and it is a language liberals, and more importantly, Democrats could easily access to stunning advantage.
In his study, Haidt found that in addition to the Millian moral foundations of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, there were three additional ethical systems: ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Liberals seemed to more strongly identify with the first two categories, whereas conservatives devalued these first two categories in relation to the remaining three. This does not mean that the Democrats have to change their priorities—it means Democrats have to change the way they communicate these priorities to conservatives, keeping in mind that they can appeal to both liberals and conservatives simultaneously.
Perhaps the most damning condemnation I have heard in opposition to torture came from a fellow debater at a summer program I attended during high school. Rather than use the standard liberal arguments—torture is a violation of our natural and civil rights, no one should be treated as subhuman, etc—she simply said, in her most forceful and powerful voice and with a determination which would make Ms. Palin flinch, “I believe in due process. I believe in American justice.” To this day, that is how I situate my repulsion towards torture. Not only does it nod to liberal morality in its appeal for justice and fairness, it appeals to conservative values by invoking the deeply American nature of this system of justice—and demanding our loyalty to that system and therefore our patriotism.
In a similar way, the most troubling thing about Sarah Palin is not that she lies. The problem is that she is not qualified, and in the very real event that John McCain would either pass or suffer a disease of old age during his presidency, like, say, Ronald Reagan may have, she would become the leader of the free world. So I wonder: why do the Republicans care so much about winning that they would actually put their country at such significant risk? It is an earnestly disturbed response to the Republican vice presidential choice—and it is the question the Democrats should be telling Americans to ask. At a time of war and crisis, is this how little the Republicans care about the fate of your country?
The conversation is not about whether or not Sarah actually supported the Bridge to Nowhere. The conversation is this: in his re-election campaign former President Clinton promised to build a bridge to the twenty-first century. A decade into that century, the Republicans have offered us a sad variation on the theme. Sarah Palin didn’t just support a Bridge to Nowhere—she is the Bridge to Nowhere. And it is high time someone asked the Republicans for whose sake they want us to walk the plank.