The Sarah Palin “Miracle” poster is not typical campaign propaganda. For the swing voters needed by the McCain campaign, it is inspirational dynamite.
Until the Palin selection, McCain did not have the hearts of Evangelical voters. He probably had their votes, however, because he is a Republican. But the campaign wasn’t taking any chances that the “fright factor” would work in November as it has before.
Fear can go a long way to secure the loyalty of the demographic known in Washington as “the Stupid Demographic”: The other candidate is a Democrat. He is therefore scary. Be very afraid. Vote Republican.
This year McCain operatives found a new way to play on the superstitions of Evangelical men and women. The move was brilliant, and it will make political and cultural history.
Just a few months ago, the Republican Party was in danger of being seen for what it was — even by unobservant Evangelicals. A few Evangelical leaders were grumbling about McCain’s hard-left socialist record. A few others pointed out facts about Republican pragmatics, and the unconstitutional and anti-Christian policies they embrace. Instead of denying this to Evangelicals, the Republican Party found a way to portray its present policies and personnel as Christian, pro-family, and spiritual.
In the personality of Sarah Palin, the Party has contrived to occupy a new position. This is not the sentimental, God-and-Country “high ground” the Party has claimed to monopolize since 1980. The new position is a position of spiritual authority. Republican political consultants and operatives are presuming to define religion for Evangelical churches, families, and women.
Sarah Palin is key in maintaining this new authoritarianism. The Party claims to endorse the Christian example of a good Christian woman, a good Christian citizen, and a good Christian magistrate. The Party is exploiting an image for Mrs. Palin as a fellow Evangelical Christian who is, simultaneously, a good Christian wife, a political moderate, a principled conservative, a biblically-devoted mother, a pro-family egalitarian, and a biblically-sound, full-time civil magistrate. To do this, the Party must expound theology to Evangelicals. Very creative theology. Very unorthodox theology. The Party is writing a new definition of the good Christian woman as citizen leader.
The story of the year, however, is not the arrogance of the Republican strategists. It is not their dishonest theology. It is the blind credulity of Evangelical leaders and pastors. Evangelical Christians are willing to be “discipled” by a deceitful political party whose god is the state. Evangelicals have proven themselves to be willing to acknowledge the Republican Machine as a spiritual authority on matters of faith and conscience, as long as the teaching is sufficiently spiritual.
And so the Party and its followers are bringing on the spiritual. They are defining the spiritual. They are illustrating the spiritual using Sarah as their primary image. So far, this has been easy because modern Evangelicals prefer spiritual feeling to theological thinking. For the 2008 campaign, Republicans have discovered the perfect mix of religious lingo, mysticism, contemporary style, team spirit, Sunday platitude and, of course, Evangelical superstition. On this curious foundation they can now introduce any cultural concept that serves the Republican agenda.
The popular “Miracle” poster is a recent example. It is galvanizing blind loyalty to Sarah Palin. The Party will reap the benefits of this loyalty. Evangelicals love the poster at first glance. Why? Why is a woman’s head on the body of a warrior not grotesque but inspirational? Because it holds spiritual meaning. The spiritual imagery used to hype Mrs. Palin into a spiritual superstar is simply a professional merging of fantasy, celebrity, personality, with a dash of false theology.
Take a look at the creative synthesis of the five mainstays of Evangelical life or, as some observers might say, the five mainstays of Evangelical idolatry. In one simple image, Mrs. Palin is portrayed as movie celebrity, sports hero, political sophisticate, cute feminist favorite, and the very channel of the power of God.
Sarah as Movie Celebrity
American Christians were once wary of the coarse, anti-family bias of Hollywood. Today Evangelicals take in movie entertainment like it’s an entitlement. They build their evenings around Hollywood television and Hollywood movies, and many churches even build “worship” services around movie clips. Here is Sarah, not as star or co-star, but superstar, dominating a real movie poster, ready to entertain adoring fans with a story “coming soon” to Washington, D.C.
Sarah as Sports Hero
In recent years, Evangelicals have been proving their ability to winsomely associate with the man on the street by joining him in the stands, talking sports trivia at the water cooler, and sending their sons and daughters into organized combat on the football, soccer and hockey circuits. Christianity Today recently admitted the idolatrous hold of sports on the Christian life, but glamorized and justified this pop fetish as a channel of God’s grace to the Christian. The magazine glibly passed over the fact that football’s “rhythm of quick bursts and pregnant pauses, its gleaming sensuality of (safe!) violence and sex, its worship of the youthful body, its intense drive for the jolting climax — spits our way of life back at us in neat three-hour packages, Sunday after Sunday (and occasional Mondays and Thursdays).”
Now comes a poster that spits this way of life back at the Evangelical, casting a hockey mom as a hockey supermom. Here the slight Mrs. Palin takes her place in the limelight as champion, with a hint at the enthralling triumph of a certain patriotic hockey battle during which pure-hearted American underdogs once vanquished the Evil Empire.
Sarah as Political Sophisticate
The poster doesn’t go so far as to tell us Mrs. Palin is a champion of foreign policy, but she is clearly the red-white-and-blue muscle on the Pachyderm ticket. Her running mate is nowhere to be seen. For smitten Evangelicals, this political star deserves to dominate the Washington scene.
Sarah as Cute Feminist Favorite
Sarah Palin is a beautiful woman with great feminine warmth and maternal gentleness. She speaks convincingly with terminology familiar to Evangelical Christians. She also speaks proudly with terminology familiar to Marxist feminists. In this poster, Republicans merge these characteristics. Sarah smiles confidently and carries a big stick. She makes militant feminism look soft and admirable.
America’s cutest Republican has done something the enemies of the family have not been able to do for 150 years. Mrs. Palin has broken the Christian tradition and resolve that Karl Marx and his ugly, angry feminist followers could not break. In a few short days, Sarah Palin and her Republican handlers have made it conservatively fashionable to abandon home, children, husband and theological truth for the sake of careerism and the kind of glory Sarah finds in this poster, which shows her as strong, noble, and joyful as she lives the feminist dream.
Sarah as the Very Channel of the Power of God
Both John McCain and his superstar running mate are politicians. They have records of policy decisions and positions. The records hold an ugly secret: both McCain and Palin are leftist in ideology and weak of character. Governor Palin is especially weak. When pushed by lesser magistrates, Mrs. Palin has sacrificed stated convictions on the altar of political correctness. Evangelicals will never find this out as long as they are enthralled with the exalted, fantastical, superstar image of Sarah the celebrity.
This clever poster suggests that it is not Republican media mavens who have exalted Sarah, but God Almighty Who chose Sarah for such a time as this and Who will miraculously solve all America’s problems because He is clearly on the side of the Republican Party, which is wise and good enough to let Sarah serve as the channel of His redemptive power over a needy nation.
This celebrity image created by Republican operatives is powerful. In the minds of the Evangelical demographic, Sarah Palin is a saint. Evangelicals will pull the lever in November because the iconography of Sarah Palin has sanctified an impious Party.
Republican voters are happy. Pollsters at Republican headquarters are happy. But this triumph of pragmatism comes at a cost: first, to the reality that the intact family is stronger than public policy and partisan politics. Second, there is a cost to womanhood; and, third, to manhood.
Fourth, there is a steep personal cost to the happiness of the real Sarah Palin. Simly put, Mrs. Palin’s political assets have been shrewdly exploited at the expense of her most valuable personal asset: her family. In exchange for a celebrity spot in the world of political power, Sarah Palin has sacrificed the position of influence that could have had a bearing on solving America’s deepest problems: her position as an attentive wife and mother.
Evangelicals like Sarah as a national leader. They are following the theology that defines her, and they are following her example. Evangelicals are betraying their principles and their theology. In exchange they get something, too: the confidence that a sanctified Republican Party will make an unholy nation sound again. This confidence is the cheap idolatry of escapist fantasy. Will Evangelicals ever realize the extent of this careless betrayal? Now, that would be a miracle.
1. Eric Miller, “Why We Love Football: Grace and idolatry run crossing patterns in the new American pastime,” Christianity Today, September 27, 2007.
2. Rather than using her power as Alaska’s chief executive to check the excess of the Alaska Supreme Court in their errant ruling in favor of homosexual rights, Governor Palin caved to pressure and vetoed a bill that affirmed the court’s aberrant decision and furthered the homosexual agenda in her state. Journalist Patrick Forgey noted the following in his December 31, 2006, article entitled “Juneau woman helped pioneer benefits law” which appeared in the Juneau Empire: “Gov. Sarah Palin, despite her opposition to equal benefits for gay and lesbian government employees, vetoed a bill passed in the special session designed to hinder the state’s ability to provide the benefits.”