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In his book The Audacity of Hope, Senator Barack Obama advances a thesis that can seem, perhaps true to form, rather utopian. He holds that—in spite of the cultural schism of the 1960s and the end of bipartisan pragmatism—Americans are not so different, and that a combination of their shared values might be enough to unite a sweeping new majority. In so doing, he engages in a little willful bifurcation, implying that ‘ordinary Americans’ are the victims, not the agents, of a climate of red-vs.-blue rancor, taking Michaels Moore and Savage to task without conceding that each man has an audience of eager millions.
That said, the almost messianic, unitive ambitions that may hang around Sen. Obama like a halo seem to pale in comparison to those expressed by his opponent’s running mate, who hopes to shift the collective consciousness altogether and to extremes. The most worrying aspect of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s résumé is not her vacillation on earmarks, and certainly not her 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy. Rather, it’s the totalizing philosophy the governor seems to have picked up in the pew.
The many attitudes that form up Palin’s religious perspective have been quick to come to light: the governor supports an outright ban on abortions, challenges the view that man is not responsible for climate change, and believes that her plan to put a natural-gas pipeline in Alaska has the support of the big public-works director in the sky.
But more unnerving than any one of the governor’s Christian-fundamentalist policy goals is the operating mechanism she sees compelling their implementation. Rather than resign herself—as Obama has—to seeking a functional agreement in a complex world, Palin would prefer to achieve cohesion and progress through simple homogeneity.
In the past week we’ve learned that despite officially renouncing her status as a Pentecostal Christian, Palin retains that tradition’s fervor for proselytizing. In the Chicago Tribune, Palin’s own pastor envisaged the political bearing her faith might have on the United States, saying, “I believe Sarah would not live in a fragmented world,” and adding that her worldview, “that really only the Bible and the relationship with Jesus opens up,” could not simply be ‘marginalized’ in the interest of secular leadership.
Moments after encouraging the faithful at her old Pentecostal church to pray for pipeline revenue, she proved her pastor right: “I can do my job [in Anchorage] in developing our natural resources, doing things like getting the roads paved…but really all of that stuff doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God. And that’s gonna be your job…to be out there reaching the people and converting the people of Alaska.” This was last year.
Palin’s active brand of Christian faith displays internal contradictions as well, the hypocrisies that always dwell with zeal. Asked whether she thinks evolution or creationism should be taught to Alaskan schoolchildren, Palin fell back upon the language of free speech: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information…Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools.” Yet, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin hoped to ban certain books from the town library. For Palin, the belief that the Judeo-Christian God created the universe is one worth exposing to young people in science class, all while those same tender minds are protected from the notion that there exists a magical kingdom called Terabithia.
Both tickets made much ado at their respective conventions about how America can be better, how we might change our nature and our image on the global stage. In Sen. Obama’s mind, the hope would seem to be that America might transcend its petty divisions and again become the exemplar of liberal government.
Meanwhile, not unlike the so-called Islamofascists, Sarah Palin has a different vision for the future, for a world in which, as Juan Cole observed yesterday in Salon, “faith is not a private affair of individuals but rather a moral imperative that believers should import into statecraft wherever they have the opportunity to do so.”
So while Obama keeps failing to wholly escape the allegation that he’s a crypto-Muslim, the hockey mom so beloved by his attackers has publicly embraced the most conservative tenets of Sharia. God help us.
James M. Larkin ’10, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House.
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