Progressive Revival

Lisa Sharon Harper is executive director of New York Faith & Justice and the author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat


If the Republican Convention was American Idol and Palin’s speech was a rock ballad, Palin would be preparing for next week’s big sing-off right about now.

But this is NOT a reality TV show.  This is reality; the future of our country, arguably the future of the world hangs in the balance. 


With foreign and domestic crises abounding, we need an administration ready to lead in both foreign and domestic policy on day one as we head into the next eight years.  As Rudy Giuliani said in his speech at the Republican Convention, “This is no time for on the job training.”


So, I ask: Why did McCain pick Sarah Palin as his running mate?  Why would a 72 year-old man who harped on the inexperience of his opponent invite someone to the VEEP seat who, when asked her opinion on the surge one year ago, replied, “I haven’t really focused much on the Iraq war.”?


The reality is that John McCain needs a collective action movement to win. According to William A. Gamson, author of Talking Politics, to galvanize a collective action movement, politicians must create collective action frames.  Three things are required to create a collective action frame:

1) language, symbols, and themes that give rise to moral indignation concerning the issue at hand

2) identification of a clear human adversary

3) a clear way to act collectively to fight the unjust adversary.

And no one does collective action movements like the Religious Right.


When I was born-again back in 1983, I had two conversions.  In the first, I renounced my sin and accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior.  In the second, I renounced my family’s party of choice (no pun intended), the Democrats, and accepted Ronald Reagan and the Republican party as my personal political saviors.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t old enough to vote yet.  I was convinced by friends that as a Christian I had to be a Republican.  Reagan was running for his second term at the time.  So, by default I had to be on his side. 


The deal was sealed when I was handed a tract on my way out of church that declared “Mondale is the Anti-Christ.”  It warned, if Mondale was elected president, all the little children would be rounded up in concentration camps!  To fight the Anti-Christ we had to vote for Reagan!  I was sold.  I went home and lobbied my parents.  I begged them to vote for Reagan.  Mom was an original member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s Philadelphia office in the 1960s.  She had none of it.


Palin, a daughter of the Religious Right, resurrected its collective action frames in her use of language and symbols, her identification of a clear human adversary, and her clear call for collective action in her September 3 speech.  


Notice her repeated references to “the media” and “the elite”; recurring villains of the Right.  Notice her use of “the troops” and John McCain’s war hero status to set up the veneer of justice for her cause.  Notice the way Palin framed Obama as the enemy of the “small town” heroes that make our country work and fight our wars and grow our food.  “We tend to prefer candidates,” she said, “who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.”


Brilliant.  She went “back to the basics” like McCain promised his campaign would; “big government”… “take your money” … “weaken America” … “taxes.” 


Then, in the last minute of her ballad she gave a clear way every listener could take collective action to defeat the enemy: “I ask you to join our cause.  Join our cause and help America elect a great man as the next president of the United States.”


And, with that, the eyes of the Right glazed over with glee and Palin became America’s Idol.


And about a week ago, I heard a rumor spreading quickly through the Right: “Did you know Obama is the Anti-Christ?”


Lisa Sharon Harper is executive director of New York Faith & Justice and the author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat, out next month from The New Press.

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