PARIS — The French are still trying to understand how Barack Obama popped out of nowhere to run for the world’s most powerful office. Now, they are struggling to comprehend last week’s Republican convention that produced the political bombshell from Alaska.
French, like many North Americans, were stunned and confused by Sen. John McCain’s surprise choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Wasilla, Alaska, a hamlet just a snowball’s throw from the North Pole. Frenchmen, being French, think she has nice legs. But no one here can understand why Republicans picked a lady whose primary experience was being mayor of a one-Husky town and cooking moose stew.
“Mon dieu,” one Parisian told me. “Those crazy Republicans must have the wish of death.” No, no, I explained to my friend who has seen too many bad Charles Bronson movies.
Not a death wish at all. The Republican party is being born-again — literally. Palin’s emergence simply confirms the final dumbing down and ruralization of the Republican Party, and its metamorphosis into a political vehicle for the religious far right.
The pistol-packing Sarah Palin is the party’s new housewife saint, a cross between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc. If elected, she will be a heartbeat from the presidency. One of McCain’s old friends in Washington told me the senator has serious but so far undisclosed ailments. Americans had better think hard about President Palin from Alaska.
Two factors led McCain to his decision. First, 53% of American voters are women. Palin’s choice was clearly an attempt to grab disgruntled Democratic female voters who are still fuming their heroine, Hillary Clinton, was a woman scorned. But McCain’s clumsy ploy may insult more Democratic female voters than it will attract. Palin, save for being a woman and mother, is against almost everything Hillary Clinton supports.
Far more important, McCain chose Palin as his running mate because she is an in-your-face, born-again, evangelical Christian. Some 44% to 50% of Republican voters now call themselves evangelical Christians. Concentrated in America’s deep heartland and southern Bible Belt, these ultra-conservative, fundamentalist white Protestants provided the Bush administration’s core support in a nation where 63% of its citizens believe that every word in the Bible is true.
Evangelical TV ayatollahs have become major political figures on America’s right. Millions of Americans get their only news from evangelical radio and TV stations.
Many evangelicals believe in the absolute literal nature of the Scriptures, biblical prophecy, the Messiah’s imminent return, and mankind’s destruction. Doing anything about the environment is thus unnecessary. They consider teaching evolution an abomination.
Evangelism has become the Republican Party’s official religion, and Mrs. Palin its new high priestess.
The evangelist’s view of foreign policy is simple. Either wicked France, Russia or the UN is the Antichrist (take your pick). Muslims are evil and a menace that must be eradicated. Israel is the paramount foreign policy issue. Support for Israel must be absolute and unlimited.
All Palestinians must be expelled from the Biblical Holy Land, the world’s Jews gathered therein, and converted. Then the Messiah will return, Armageddon will come, and earth will be consumed by fire and brimstone. Only born-again Christians will survive and be teleported up to heaven. The rest of us will roast.
Evangelicals were very unhappy with the choice of McCain, an East Coast Republican who they viewed as theologically untrustworthy, and far too liberal when it came to social issues like abortion and same sex marriage. Without a heavy turnout by evangelical voters, McCain would not have a chance of winning. That’s why his original favorite for VP, the smarmy, slippery Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, was dumped in favor of kill-a-polar-bear for Jesus Mrs. Palin.
The brainy Republican political analyst Kevin Phillips, who forged Ronald Reagan’s first electoral victory, makes a very important point in his must-read book, American Theocracy. We’ve all heard of soccer moms, but Phillips identified an even more important voting group backing the Bush administration: “national security moms.”
These middle class mothers in the outer suburbs and rural areas, opines Phillips, were petrified by the Bush administration’s scare campaign over terrorism into believing their little Johnny’s in remotest Alabama and Kansas were about to become targets of al-Qaida. So they voted in droves for Bush and Cheney, who promised to wage war on “evil.” The votes of these security moms, Phillips found, often gave Bush the margin of victory in the last elections in many states.
McCain vows to continue this crusade that appeals to fear and ignorance, now led into battle by the new wilderness saint, Sarah Palin, M-16 in one hand, Bible in the other.
America’s conservatives love their new poster girl. As for the wicked French, all they can say so far is, “Mon dieu!”