Journalists have long been puzzled over Sarah Palin's popularity. In November, Newsweek took a stab at the trend with its provocative cover of Palin in running clothes: "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah Palin: How Sarah Palin Hurts the GOP And the Country."
The magazine's latest cover features Palin with a halo on her head titled "Saint Sarah: What's Palin's appeal to conservative Christian women says about feminism and the future of the religious right."
Lisa Miller's thesis is compelling if it is true, but journalists usually rely on hard facts, polls, maybe interviews with political scientists to prove their points. Unfortunately, Miller's article contains none of these to support her theory that Palin is somehow the new leader of the Christian Right. Instead, she strings together a bunch of anecdotes and quotes to prove what she thinks is happening. Allow me, in Douglas LeBlanc fashion, to pull some quotes out and make comments (bolded phrases are my own).
The story leads with Palin's classic story of how she decided to give birth to her son Trig.
Palin has already overshared: nothing makes a person, let alone a politician, appear more vulnerable, more ordinary, and more unambiguously female than a scene in a bathroom where she pees on a stick. But then she defies a generation of pro-life activists who preached that the life of the fetus is sacred, no matter what an individual woman wants.
Is there any indication that Palin doesn't think the fetus is sacred? Lots of women who chose to give birth give testimonies about their decision-making process. Is she actually defying other activists?
Let's face it: the Trig story is a women's story, the kind girlfriends share over coffee or in church. It has all the familiar elements of evangelical testimony: tribulation and dread; trust in God; and, finally, great blessings. Many Christian women loathe Palin,
of course, and many men love her,
but a certain kind of conservative, Bible-believing woman worships her.
Who? Is it only Bible-believing women who worship her? And really? Worships her?
To a smaller number, she is a prophet, ordained by God for a special role in the cosmic battle against the forces of evil.
What forces of evil? Who thinks she was ordained by God? Does this smaller number think the political arena is the cosmic battle?
Palin has been antagonizing women on the left of late by describing herself as a "feminist," a word she uses to mean the righteous...
Is there a specific instance where she said that she means the righteous? Where's the evidence of this?
Even if she never again seeks elected office, her pro-woman rallying cry, articulated in the evangelical vernacular, together with the potent pro-life example of her own family, puts Palin in a position to reshape and reinvigorate the religious right, one of the most powerful forces in American politics.
I would actually argue that her evangelical vernacular is somewhat lacking if she's not talking about Jesus (which Miller mentions briefly). Is there any physical evidence that she's actually reshaping or reinvigorating the religious right? It seems that the religious political arena has recently been overshadowed by the tea party movement (something Palin seems to spur). Also, what about Palin's endorsements that weren't successsful?
The Christian right is now poised to become a women's movement--and Sarah Palin is its earthy Jerry Falwell.
What happened to the men in this? Is there evidence that people like Tony Perkins, James Dobson, etc. are taking marching orders from Palin? Is she somehow driving men out of the religious right? Have men stopped participating in politics? She writes about her support for Nikki Haley and Carly Fiorina, but these women haven't won the general election yet. Why is helping in primaries enough to give her this much influence? Is there any evidence that people driving Fiorina and Haley votes are evangelicals, particularly evangelical women? How much has she raised? How much has she spent?
Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson used their media megaphones to preach a "family values" agenda--and then supported candidates who upheld their pro-marriage, antigay, and pro-life views. Their great triumph, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, was followed by decades of acrimonious public debate about abortion, and political operatives soon discovered that no issue motivated voters more.
I don't think Dobson was involved in supporting candidates until the last decade or two. If this is the case, what explains Bill Clinton's election in 1992 and 1996? Wouldn't it have motivated a certain percentage of voters, not "voters" in general?
And while women have long been active, even zealous, foot soldiers in family-values causes, they have not until now been passionate about their representatives on the national stage.
Where's the evidence of this? Are there statistics on volunteers pre and post Palin? What about George W. Bush's campaign in 2004? What about Reagan? How does she know that there are more volunteers?
...though they would not have called themselves feminists--were grappling with changing realities in their own world: too many were divorced and working outside the home to wholeheartedly embrace the traditional female identity of submissive wife and mother.
All evangelicals promote the female identity as submissive wife and mother? That's quite the stereotype.
In 2008, 28 percent of born-again Christian women voted for Barack Obama...
Doesn't this go against Miller's theory? Or is she saying that Palin has emerged after the 2008 election? If that's the case, where's the evidence?
The women who follow Palin will fight against Roe--and support adoption and prenatal health clinics--but they aren't generally focused on birth control, sex education, or gender discrimination.
How is she getting any idea about what these women believe? Has their been a poll or a survey?
These Christians seek a power that allows them to formally acquiesce to male authority and conservative theology, even as they assume increasingly visible roles in their families, their churches, their communities, and the world.
Is conservative theology just "female submission" in her mind? How can Palin (a woman) lead a group that wants to acquiesce to male authority?
When asked why she loves Sarah Palin, a conservative Christian woman will point you to Proverbs 31.
Who pointed to Proverbs 31 for why she likes Palin? Was this just one person she's interviewed? Many? Is that really the first thing they mention?
Behind the Christian-military rhetoric, though, is a theology that's generic, Griffith and other scholars say. (Though the video clip that made the rounds during the campaign of Palin being prayed over by an African minister gave foes on the left the willies, most churchgoing conservative evangelicals were completely unfazed.)
How does Miller measure whether evangelicals were unfazed by a video?
In her speeches, Palin never damns anyone to hell. She never talks about sin: discussing her daughter Bristol, accidentally pregnant at 17, she talks about responsibility.
Does anyone expect her to talk about hell and sin? She is a politician, not a preacher.
Palin has her faults, but the left is partially to blame for her ascent. Its native mistrust of religion, of conservative believers in particular, left the gap that Palin now fills.
Perhaps Miller should have spent more time writing about this part of the story. It would be more compelling to read more about the left's mistrust of religion that left a gap.
Scholars write entire books on the "Religious Right," as it has always been a difficult movement to pin down. That said, I find it odd that Miller couldn't find one political scientist to quote. Surely someone who has analyzed the data and watched the trends would weigh in on whether this is a trend. What Miller fails to grapple with is whether Palin is actually a Christian leader like Dobson, Falwell, et al or whether she is mostly just a political/celebrity leader. Religious leaders are usually found in pastors, theologians, speakers, authors, someone who isn't primarily political.
Perhaps Palin is more of a leader for the pro-life movement (the Susan B. Anthony List leader she quotes in the article is Catholic, not white evangelical) and maybe the tea party movement. Palin doesn't seem to be bending over backwards to lead Christians; Besides, white evangelical women aren't likely to get excited by a "rosarylike" necklace.
Now, Palin could be the favorite for evangelicals if she runs for president, but would that necessarily make her the leader of the religious right? The article also lacks mention of someone who could be Palin's political contender: Mike Huckabee. His show and books are quite popular, and in some cases he uses religious language more often than Palin does. On some level, he would probably vie for "values voters" as much as Palin would.
If Palin is really leading the religious right, has anyone captured photo evidence of Palin's flock? The accompanying slideshow, titled "Cult of Palin," features Palin condoms, porn movies and strip clubs. The slideshow does nothing to back Miller's thesis about Palin's new found leadership of the religious right. Maybe that's because Newsweek is making Palin in its own image.