Steven Waldman

Sam Harris’s attack on Sarah Palin in Newsweek is a mix of brilliant analysis and grossly unfair bits of stereotyping.
First, the unfair.

“Every detail that has emerged about Palin’s life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the land.”

As dogmatic as anyone in America? That’s quite a claim. Actually, her record shows her to be a pol first, and a “movement conservative” second. She talked about teaching creationism in schools – but then as governor didn’t push it. She opposes gay marriage but did nothing to push that line while governor. In her interview with Charlie Gibson, she said abortion policy should be left to the states. Her oft-quoted line about the Iraq war being “God’s plan” was taken out of context. (On the other hand, she DID say it was “God’s will” that they build a natural gas pipeline).

“Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible guide to future events and that we are living in the ‘end times.’….
“You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” “miraculous healings” and “the gift of tongues.” Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin’s spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of “the final generation,” engaged in “spiritual warfare” to purge the earth of “demonic strongholds.”
Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: “All options remain on the table”?

Beyond simply the assertion that those in Assemblies of God churches “very likely” believe such things, is there any evidence Palin believes the end is nigh? Those who believe in End Times fall into at least three categories. Those who think the end is imminent and have shaped their behavior around such things (stockpiling water in the basement, not bothering to recycle etc); those who believe the end is near but live their life as is; and those who think the end will come but have no idea when. We have no idea which category she’s in. It’s definitely a legitimate question for her, but being a member of Assemblies of God doesn’t per se mean she’ll be revving up the nukes to goose along Armageddon.

“There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn’t ready for? He wouldn’t. Everything happens for a reason”

This might be true – as it was for John Adams and George Washington. Adams told Abigail that his election to the presidency reflected “the voice of God.” Washington ascribed battlefield victories to the “astonishing interpositions of Providence.” Believing that God influences history doesn’t necessarily make one either an idiot or a bad leader.
Now, I thought the best part of Harris’s piece was his defense of elitism, which was actually a defense of excellence.

“What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents–and her supporters celebrate–the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance….Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases.
And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth–in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.”

This has been bugging me too. The last thing I’d want in a President is someone just like me! I noticed in a recent letter by a conservative Christian who believed that Sarah Palin was sent by God to fight the anti-Christ (i.e. Obama), he didn’t mention her qualifications at all. He loved Palin because she’s “a born-again, Spirit-filled Christian, attends church, and has been a ministry worker.” I’m not sure why that would qualify someone to be President.
UPDATE: The Weekly Standard’s publisher, Terry Eastland, has just produced a very fair overview of Palin’s religion.

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