Saturday, August 30, 2008

Huckabee Nostalgia

I never thought I'd feel wistful about Mike Huckabee not getting the VP nod. I didn't really think he'd have a chance. He's too extreme in his religious beliefs. He's too retrograde on women's rights.

Ha! After just a day, such troubling questions have arisen about Sarah Palin that I'm wallowing in nostalgia for Huckabee.

Let's run the comparison. First, Palin and Huckabee are both strikingly good-looking. Let's call that a wash even though Huckabee has never been profiled in Vogue. (Neither has ever been on the cover, though a convincing photoshopped fake of Palin as a cover girl made the rounds yesterday.) And yeah, I realize appearance shouldn't even be an issue, but as figleaf points out, John McCain saw Dan Quayle's looks as a great source of electoral appeal, so maybe McCain thinks Palin's beauty will draw some votes.

Now, Quayle was so dumb that he squandered any potential sex appeal as soon as he opened his trap. My first impression of Sarah Palin is that she's brighter than Quayle - although I cringed all the way down to my toenails when she said "nucular" in her first big speech yesterday. My guess is that behind the pretty facade, Palin - much like Huckabee - is reasonably smart and very politically savvy. After all, she mounted a bloodless coup within Alaska's political establishment and defeated a sitting Republican governor in the 2006 primary.

Palin was surely more palatable than Huckabee to the Grover Norquist types because she doesn't seem to share his concern for social justice - the quality that I liked best in Huckabee, along with his sideline as a rock musician. Her plan for lifting Alaskans economically seems to be further exploitation of the state's natural resources. Kinda hard to generalize that to the whole country. (On energy policy, she most closely resembles Dick Cheney - minus the evil scowl.)

When it comes to religious extremism, Palin may just top Huckabee. Especially on the grassroots level, the religious right would have been happy with Huckabee as the VP candidate. But Palin put James Dobson over the moon, according to an AP story:
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who initially said he could not vote for McCain but has since opened the door to an endorsement, called Palin "an outstanding choice that should be extremely reassuring to the conservative base" of the GOP. Dobson added that the ticket "gives us confidence he will keep his pledges to voters regarding the kinds of justices he would nominate to the Supreme Court."
Now, the AP is also reporting that while Palin's office says she does not identify herself as a Pentecostal, she has attended more than one church affliated with the Assemblies of God. Last I checked, the Assemblies of God were at the very heart of Pentecostalism. Why might Palin play this connection down in favor of saying she attends a nondenominational church? In a very even-handed assessment, Professor John Fea, a historian of religion in America at Messiah College, notes that public figures sympathetic to Pentecostalism tend to fly under the radar with the more radical elements of their faith, lest they alienate even other committed evangelicals. He expects Palin will likely do the same.

And that's where it gets scary. Maybe Palin herself does not believe that the Rapture is imminent. Maybe she doesn't believe in demonic possession or exorcism. Maybe she has never spoken in tongues. Maybe she's as skeptical as I about faith-healing. I realize there's a fair amount of variety within Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, and maybe Palin doesn't buy the whole package.

But given her church-going history, Palin needs to clarify her beliefs. While I generally think faith is a private, personal matter best kept out of the public arena, her beliefs becomes our business if she thinks demons are at work in our lives. Or if she believes the Apocalypse is nigh and that we ought to be hurrying it along. Or if she embraces dominion theology - which basically calls for theocracy - as blogger Dogemperor thinks is possible. (My understanding of Pentecostalism isn't deep enough to evaluate Dogemperor's arguments, but I'm inclined to be convinced because his/her analysis of Feminists for Life is spot on.)

Even if Palin only believes in the warmer, fuzzier elements of Pentecostalism, like faith healing, I'm still, well, skeptical. We've already had one president who was completely divorced from the reality-based community. We sure don't need another. And on the whole, Pentecostalism is more loosely tethered to reality than Huckabee's Southern Baptist church.

When it comes to reproductive rights, Palin is about as reactionary as Huckabee, who said he would sign a bill like the one in South Dakota that would have permitted abortion only to save a woman's life. During her gubernatorial campaign, a staffer said Palin would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. However, he also said she'd allow a health exception, which is a loophole that nearly every hardcore anti-abortion activisit wants closed. I have a feeling Palin will be forced to back away from the health exception. Interestingly, she told the press back in 2006 that she favors contraception - which despite being the obvious way to reduce abortions won't sit well with much of the "pro-life" establishment. I'm curious whether she'll stick to her guns.

As I mentioned yesterday, Palin has been lionized by pro-lifers for knowingly giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome. In comments, Heather rightly pointed out that I'd parroted their way of framing her decision (she chose to have the baby "anyway"), which offends many within the disability community. But that is fairly consistently how the pro-lifers view it - as a noble sacrifice:
Palin has been held up by many evangelicals as a model for her decision to give birth to her fifth child in April after learning that he has Down syndrome.

"I think that's a plus in her favor with conservatives," said the Rev. Don Argue, a past president of the National Association of Evangelicals and chancellor of Northwest University in Seattle. ...

[Dobson] called her refusal to abort her fifth child "bravery and integrity in action."

(Source: Yet another AP article.)
Of course, if - like Dobson - you believe there's only one moral response, why single Palin out for unusual bravery?

And why celebrate her "choice"? If McCain and Palin (and Huckabee) have their way, there will be no choice. Period.

Ugh. I think my Huckabee nostalgia has been cured. But I don't feel one bit better.


hesperia said...

I know women (and men) who are strongly pro-choice who have chosen to continue pregnancies after health difficulties, including Down's Syndrome, were diagnosed in their fetuses. THAT is a choice, and I didn't hear any of them saying "even though".

Thanks for this Sungold. I can't stand Palin's politics but I think she was likely a good choice. For REPUBLICANS! Why does anyone think that McCain was going to choose someone Democrats would like?

Sungold said...

I definitely don't think many Democrats will be fooled - and the more I learn about Palin, the less convinced I am the Republicans will go for her, either.

The figure I've seen repeatedly is that 90% of women whose fetus is diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome choose to abort. I'd be very curious as to whether that figure varies much between "pro-life" and pro-choice women.