Friday, September 5, 2008

Pastor Palin? A Brief Conversation (UPDATED)

I know; these pages have morphed into "All Politics, All the Time," while events stubbornly continue to unfold in the world beyond the Campaign trail.

Still, I hope any readers will grant your humble commentator a small indulgence; not being a Sports Guy, I've seldom experienced the rush of vicarious competition and micro-tribal affiliations and rivalries which are so often found in the enjoyment of those primate dominance games. Following this election has had a bit of that flavor for me. It's kinda cool. There's even been 'smack-talk.'

Transcribed (with permission) below is a brief Facebook exchange I had today with a friend who had posted an article on AK Governor/VP Candidate Sarah Palin's purported blurring of religious and civic duties. Pretty serious charge, which can't be ignored. So, I called up the full article, and examined its claims. My friend (who has asked to be called "Mysharonany") responded to even the hint of Church/State blending much as I would have done till rather recently. I share the view that those who mix their religion with their politics are pretty much 'crossing the streams' (in the Ghostbusters sense). I do understand that this is just the sort of thing which becomes a "bright line," Pass/Fail sort of issue. If I thought for a minute that there was any real danger of that line being crossed, I would have some very serious thinking to do. On the other hand, I can scarcely blame anyone else for setting the Acceptable Level of Risk slider at a point which differs from mine.

Anyway, here's the conversation:


Palin's Start in Alaska - Not Politics as Usual
Published: September 2, 2008


Anti-abortion fliers circulated. Ms. Palin played up her church work and her membership in the National Rifle Association. The state Republican Party, never involved before because city elections are nonpartisan, ran advertisements on Ms. Palin’s behalf.

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

And for some, Ms. Palin’s first months in office here were so jarring — and so alienating — that an effort was made to force a recall. About 100 people attended a meeting to discuss the effort, which was covered in the local press, but the idea was dropped.

Ms. Palin also upended the town’s traditional ways with a surprise edict: No employee was to talk to the news media without her permission.




Defeated political opponents and disgruntled dismissed employees have issues with her (in many cases refusing to be directly quoted).

She is a Christian (whatever), and acts like one (but never *actually* acts to ban any books, later saying that the very subject was "rhetorical").

She supports gun rights in a state where large predators roam free.

Around 1 in 50 people make a half-hearted (unsuccessful) effort to recall her over her (successful) efforts to bring relatively explosive economic growth to her previously backwater town.

She acts to increase the seriousness of a political system in that town, elevating it above the Mayberry level (including acting to plug gossipy-politicky unauthorized chats by employees of her administration with the local media), meanwhile pushing through significant infrastructure and other public works improvements for the benefit of all.

And for this, she MUST be prevented from becoming vice president, lest she manage to force a theocratic agenda past filibuster-proof Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

What else ya got? ;-)


Anyone in public office that even suggests the possibility of banning books. . .should not be in the White House.

What about separation of church and state . . .

Her belief is that the United States sent troops to fight in the Iraq war on a "task that is from God."

She also urged ministry students to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it "God's will."

Sorry. . .not my god . . . and anyone that thinks that way SHOULDN"T be anywhere near the White House.

And she is not PRO CHOICE. . .as far as I am concerned . . .for that reason alone, she should be kept away from the White House.

Pretty straight forward for me!!


OK, first off, I do hope you know that there is *no* love lost between myself and evangelical Christians. Hell's bells, I lived inside that head (a scary place) for a couple of years in the early eighties (hey, does that make me a "dead-again Christian?"). Of course you know that; sorry.

Re: books: It's hard to comment on what was in her head, since there is zero context here. For all we know, she may have been relaying a question from a constituent. What we do know is that, when told by the librarian that there was NO legitimate means for barring certain books from the library, she dropped the whole subject. Itchy as the topic makes me, too, this simply doesn't sound like the behavior of a zealot on a mission.

Separation of Church and State does not mean that politicians must not possess any religious beliefs. If a Wiccan politician articulated his environmental policies in terms of harmony with the Goddess, I might chuckle, but as long as he pretty much restricted such talk to Coven meetings, and didn't try and write it into any laws, I'd have no fundamental (har-har) problem with it.

In the article you quote (which is here: Palin was talking to ministry students, not a wider political audience. Do I think it's loopy to say that growing the economy, funding public projects, and advancing national security are somehow "God's Will?" Certainly. Do I think that these things are worth doing in themselves? Yup. Of course your mileage may vary on some specific *policies,* but that's kinda the point: as long as the policy is sound, then I don't really care if someone wraps it in some silly philosophy to find more motivation to git 'er done. If the policy sucks, then I'll give an atheist just as hard a time as I will a Hindu or a Muslim. Or a Christian.

Someone being anti-choice has been and will continue to be a Big Red Flag for me, as horrid as I find abortion to be and as hard I think we should work as a society to make it "safe, legal, and rare." But, as with all things, I try to look at the larger picture; regardless of what goofy views she may have, it is her intention and ability to push such views onto me which I have to look at, as well as the other, less goofy views she may have.

Her intention is suspect (remember, I was a Christian; I understand how they think, and they are CONVINCED that they have a good bead on the Universe, and want to bring everyone else along). No question, this is a legit worry (though there IS variation here: they don't ALL want to blend Jeebus and Jefferson, and some are even smart enough to realize that separating Religion and politix is as much for the protection of religion as it is for that of politix).

However, her ABILITY to do much damage on that front is dependent on what the other branches of government will let her get away with, should she be foolish enough to make a play for pushing any of this shite through. Like I said, the Congress already has a Democratic majority, and is looking to widen that gap in coming years. Even if Mac should shuffle off or resign, and Sarah should drop into the Big Chair, the Congress isn't going to let her get away with extremist Judicial appointments (which is really the ONLY point at which a President's religious views have any bearing on the matter of abortion anyway).

Far as I'm concerned, this frees me up to look at other policies she may have. That's a bigger question than we're gonna tackle here, since I rather suspect we have some contrasting views on those (>;-) ).


In the end, this is the sort of thing on which it is generally better to A2D, which is where we left it, and rightly so. My benchmark of what constitutes an acceptable risk, as a function of other issues which I judge to take precedence, is not one which I can reasonably expect others who feel strongly about the matter to assume.

Still, it does bear mentioning that the article which started all this appears to have taken some liberties with the content of the quotations on which it made its case. It is one thing to pray that the policies which one is working to advance are in keeping with one's God's will. It is quite another to declare that such policies are God's will. The latter is political malfeasance (not to mention shockingly hubristic theological malpractice). The former is a perfectly legitimate plea for the wisdom to pursue ends which are in line with the Plan of whatever deity one believes to have a dog in the fight. Given the audience (again, a group of ministry students at her church), I just can't seem to get too exercised about this; too much else seems marvelously right (no pun intended) about her compared to the things which worry me.

So, um, "Go Team!"

UPDATE: Found this AP article which speaks to Palin's actual behavior in office, and it is greatly reassuring about the extent (essentially nil) to which she has taken any steps to translate her religious views into policies, when she's had the very real chance to do so:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — As a candidate for governor, Sarah Palin called for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. But after Alaska voters elected her, Palin, now Republican John McCain's presidential running mate, kept her campaign pledge to not push the idea in the schools.


Palin's children attend public schools and Palin has made no push to have creationism taught in them.

Neither have Palin's socially conservative personal views on issues like abortion and gay marriage been translated into policies during her 20 months as Alaska's chief executive. It reflects a hands-off attitude toward mixing government and religion by most Alaskans.

"She has basically ignored social issues, period," said Gregg Erickson, an economist and columnist for the Alaska Budget Report.

Submitted for your consideration.

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