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Is Sarah Palin a “whack job”? Yesterday, Politico quoted an unnamed senior McCain advisor describing Palin in just those words. Yet there has been little reporting in the mainstream media that would sustain this characterization. As I reported a few days back for The Daily Beast,, one of the things that led Bill Kristol—Palin’s principal advocate—to push her as McCain’s vice president was the fact that she was unknown, a blank slate. She hailed from a small town in the most remote state in the Union. When the Palin nomination was announced, hundreds of journalists descended on Anchorage and its northern suburb of Wasilla. A handful of serious exposé pieces emerged in the process. But only one visitor up north came back with a bag of gold nuggets. His name is Max Blumenthal.
Over the past several years, Blumenthal’s work has focused on fringe groups on the right. He has excelled in covering political activism among evangelicals. His technique is simple: he confronts the subjects and lets them speak for themselves. His videos are generally under fifteen minutes and are somewhat haphazard, but Blumenthal invariably captures images and language that go unreported in the mainstream media–which prefers to allow religious-right figures to sell their snake oil unreported and off camera. In his trek to Alaska, Blumenthal focused on three aspects of Palin’s background—her relationship with two churches that played a central role in her political campaigns (first for mayor of Wasilla, then for governor of Alaska); her connections to a political separatist movement, the Alaska Independent Party; and her relations with minorities.
The materials Blumenthal harvested on his trip have had a real impact on the campaign. They include clips of services in the Wasilla Assembly of God, where Palin was baptized when she was twelve and which she attended until 2002, and the Wasilla Bible Church, which she attended after 2002. Although Palin launched her political career from a religious platform, mobilizing the religious communities with which she was affiliated, she has been quiet about her religious views throughout the campaign. The footage that Blumenthal secured and published allows an extraordinary glimpse into Palin’s inner sanctum. We see in some clips Palin delivering an address in which she equates religious missionary work with her political career. A series of vital political projects—ranging from the war in Iraq to a pipeline project—are described as being divinely ordained, and thus beyond discussion. In another clip, Bishop Thomas Muthee lays hands on Palin and prays, “Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus… Use her to turn this nation the other way around and to keep her safe from every form of witchcraft.” In another segment that Blumenthal recorded in the church, Muthee sermonizes about “the enemy,” using violent language. What these clips reveal is material to understanding Palin’s political and religious views. They suggest that the Wasilla congregation and Palin follow “dominionism,” a conviction that society must be governed exclusively by the law of God as set forth in the Bible. Biblical texts are to be construed and applied with a right-wing twist that reveals plenty of conservative social prejudices and little sensitivity to the original texts themselves. Moreover, dominionists share a millennial vision of the Rapture, coming great upheavals and political change leading to the creation of the Kingdom of God on earth. Dominionists do not embrace the separation of church and state, and tend to approach political issues from a highly dogmatic stance, often focused on particular charismatic individuals they see as ordained to govern. Indeed, dominionists widely embraced George W. Bush as an “anointed” leader whose decisions were beyond debate. They form a large chunk of the 20 percent rump group that continue to give Bush a positive performance evaluation. Blumenthal interviews one of Palin’s followers who equates her with Queen Esther, the biblical figure who bravely protected the Jews during the Babylonian Captivity.
Were it not for the determination and fearlessness of Max Blumenthal, we would now stand one week before the election largely ignorant of Palin’s Christianist political theology. His work was invaluable, but it has been under-exposed and -appreciated. Here is an essential library of Blumenthal’s work on Palin. Is Sarah Palin a “whack job”? Watch the clips, particularly those of her speaking in her own church, and call it for yourself.
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“I will never know what goes on in your mind, or what that shield of a smile behind which we try to advance should tell us.”