Virtually nothing can come out that will dissuade evangelicals from adoring Sarah Palin. No, I’m not accusing them of being ingorant or “easily led.” But the dynamics of how this is playing out make it extremely unlikely they’ll fallout of love with her, even in the face of evidence that sh’es not actually a reformer.
I say this for a few reasons. First, a point of comparison. When Barack Obama came on the scene, many people didn’t love him, they loved the idea of him — an inspirational, reform-minded African-American. But many also knew that whlie he made a good first impression, it might be an illusion. Over the course of 19 months, he was roughed up, interviewed hundreds of times, participated in scores of debates, and challenged by another Democrat, Hillary Clinton. At the end of the day, voters took their measure of the man and decided he was for real.
Sarah Palin starts out much as Barack obama did – with many voters in love with the idea of her. But there will apparently be very few interviews and just one debate – which means that most of the vetting will be done by the media. But most evangelicals are convinced that the mainstream media is biased against them; so they don’t trust it. And issues raised by opponents will be viewed as attacks on a Christian, not as an attack on a politician. It’s an impenetrable shield. Christians have been fed a steady diet for years of articles, book and TV programs proving that the media hates Christinas and will do anything to mock them (and the media provides just enough evidence to feed the view). The more dirt – even accurate dirt – that’s thrown at her, the more Christians will believe she’s being attacked for her faith.
In a primary, you’ve partial advantage that some of those who are raising questions are members of the same political party who you’ve worked with in the past. You trust them in ways that Christians simply cannot and will not trust the New York Times.
It’s also important to understand WHY Christians love her. It’s not because she’s a reformer, so if that turns out to be untrue (as seems increasingly the case), it really wont matter. It’s that she’s a Christian and did a handful of extremely important Christian things – refusing to have or counsel for an abortion when she became pregnant with a Downs Syndrome child and when her teen daughter became impregnated. This combined with the fact that she’s a serious member of a Bible-based church makes her something evangelicals have been waiting for: an appealing, young, evangelical who seem to live her faith.
In that sense, the only two facts about her life that will really matter to evangelicals about her are the two abortions she didn’t have as a result of her Christian faith. As long as those two facts remain true, nothing else will dent her reputation.
This is why I wrote hours after the selection that the Palin pick may be great for evangelicals – but it’s also a huge risk.
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About Steve Waldman
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