There have been several variants of the same joke floating around the blog and talk show circuits regarding Sarah Palin's tightly wound persona. Palin is doing quite well with middle-class men and that should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever seen a Van Halen video. I personally prefer the dominatrix-by-night analogy, but sexist or not, the point remains the same: There's a sense that there's more than meets the eye to the Republican vice presidential candidate and it's not very surprising that, as her record has gradually come to light, concerns have swiftly turned from Palin's lack of experience to specifics about her questionable policies and beliefs. The hullabaloo surrounding Palin's nomination has muted the Barack Obama campaign's main credo: that John McCain represents four more years of George W. Bush. Some have speculated that the Palin pick changes that equation, but it actually renders the ticket even Bushier—maybe even Bushier than Bush himself. During her exclusive interview with Charles Gibson last night, Palin echoed the Bush Doctrine of hasty, preemptive war: “We must not blink.”
Despite the current administration's fervent pandering to the religious right, and despite Bush's own personal spiritual beliefs (and even some disturbing but only passing allusions to divine military intervention), there was never a real sense that Bush—and especially Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—believed that their policies in Iraq were “God's will.” You've no doubt heard by now what Palin told the Wasilla Assembly of God: “Our national leaders are sending [the U.S. Military] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan.” Nebulous at best, but regarding the $500 million natural gas pipeline she has lobbied to have built in her state, Palin made her views clear: “God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that.”
Harnessing the power of Evangelicals and conservative ideologues was simply a means to an end for the Bush administration—that end being the acquisition and maintenance of power. It's hard to imagine any administration being worse than Bush's (McCain might be a hawk but I truly believe it when he claims his goal is to protect the country, not simply attain personal power), but the installment of Palin—by many accounts not McCain's first choice, and certainly not the “maverick” pick many on the right would have us believe—into the campaign brought the religious right one step closer to achieving their goal of legislating Christian fundamentalist beliefs into American law.
Earlier this week, Juan Cole of Salon wrote the best assessment (read: most frightening condemnation) of Palin's beliefs in his article “What's the difference between Palin and Muslim fundamentalists? Lipstick.” To paraphrase Obama…and McCain…and countless other politicians and non-politicians throughout the last century who have used the “lipstick on a pig” colloquialism, you can put lipstick, glasses, a below-the-knee skirt and a bun on a religious fundamentalist, but it's still a religious fundamentalist. Since 9/11, the party in power has chosen to fight religious extremism by adopting its practices and ideologies, limiting the freedoms of its people, claiming to have God on its side, and attempting to eliminate the division between church and state. Whether it's being done by a genuine theocrat or a politician or party simply willing to exploit its devout base to obtain power, the result is the same: the transformation of the United States government into a vehicle for an extreme religious agenda.
Palin's similarities to Bush don't end there. Even if you think the Alaska governor's brother-in-law, Michael Wooten, is a scumbag (Palin allegedly dismissed Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan because he refused to fire Wooten, a state trooper), and even if the real abuses of power didn't involve trying to get Monegan fired but simply attempting to usurp the investigation and quash subpoenas, the misuse of authority to settle a personal family vendetta is something Bush, whose father was the target of an assassination plot by Saddam Hussein following the first Gulf War, knows all too well.
According to an ABC News investigation into the firing of a Wasilla librarian, Palin and fellow Christian conservatives began focusing on the availability of certain books in local bookstores and libraries, including Pastor, I'm Gay, written by Howard Bess, a retired reverend of the Church of the Covenant. Bess told ABC: “It wasn't just simply a matter of her using the religious right to get elected. She was one of them.” Bush, too, has fancied himself an editor: It's been well documented that his administration has edited or blatantly altered congressional reports to fit the perception of reality (of terrorism, the Iraq War, climate change, etc.) that they'd like to sell to the American public.
Palin's record on the environment is even more damning. Though she cracked down on ethical violations related to oil companies after taking office as governor, her positions on drilling and climate change are patently anti-environment and put her in lockstep with the oilmen currently running the country. She has repeatedly placed the economy and oil companies before the environment and wildlife, questioning the validity of climate change science and even challenging the listing of polar bears as threatened. The Bush administration reluctantly added the species to the list only after massive pressure from scientists and environmentalists, and by suing the administration, Palin superficially appears in opposition to Bush when in fact she and the President are in agreement on the issue. Palin expanded Alaska's speciously named “aerial predator control” program, in which wolves and bears are hunted from aircrafts. According to the Anchorage Daily News, her state's biologists killed 14 newborn wolf pups by shooting them in the head. The killings were “humane,” but only in the sense that their parents had already been killed and they would have had to fend for themselves. Palin's administration illegally offered a $150 bounty for each wolf killed despite the fact that the state hasn't had the legal authority to implement such bounties since 1984. The woman who would be vice president also aggressively opposed her state's Clean Water Initiative, favoring mining companies over protecting salmon.
Palin is a staunch supporter of teaching creationism in publicly funded schools, a clear violation of the separation of church and state, a legal doctrine that was put in place by the original framers of the Constitution not to protect the government's secularism but the freedom of religious exercise. And though admittedly irrelevant to Palin's candidacy, her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy is exemplary of the flaws in abstinence-only education, which Palin supports. We know little about the vice presidential nominee's parenting skills, nor do we know whether or not her daughter used contraception, but even a young woman whose mother publicly espouses the virtues of said training is capable of getting pregnant and the hypocrisy inherent in such a tabloid-ready tale only points to the failure of the religious right's antiquated ignorance-first approach to sex education.
The pregnancy scandal also spotlights the McCain-Palin campaign's duplicitous rules of media engagement. Family is off limits, unless it can be used to exploit both 9/11 and the Iraq War (her son left for Iraq yesterday, the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington). And after CNN's Campbell Brown questioned McCain strategist Tucker Bounds about Palin's foreign policy experience during the Republican National Convention, calling him out on an obvious double standard (Palin herself dismissed the importance of “a big fat resume” during her interview with Gibson) and asking for an example of one decision Palin made as commander of the Alaskan National Guard, McCain cancelled his own appearances on the network in a huff. His campaign claimed Brown went “over the line,” that line apparently having been moved from questions about her family to questions related to anything that attempts to examine her qualifications or policies. It's this kind of Bush-Cheney obstinateness and lack of transparency that renders the Bush-Palin, err McCain-Palin, ticket a Democratic strategist's wet dream.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.