Sarah Palin, who seemed for a while to be receding into obscurity, has come roaring back into the public eye, appearing on sundry talk shoes to shill her new book, a paen to Christmas as it is understood in the tribal reaches of rightwing Christianity. There are bills to be paid and somebody has to put the moose on the table - hence Palin's latest essay into the us against them "war" on Christmas that has become as inevitable a marker of the season as renditions of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer," and evidently just as important in getting rightwing holiday juices flowing.
Consequently, it's not surprising that among Palin's numerous book tour bon mots is a funny little riff expressing her baflement over Pope Francis' efforts to move the Catholic church in a more inclusive and less dogmatic direction:
... He's had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me. There again, unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I’m not going to just trust what I hear in the media.”
She continued: "I'm kinda trying to follow what his agenda is. You know he came out with a couple of things in the media but again I'm not one to trust the media's interpretation of somebody's message but having read through media outlets," the former Governor of Alaska said.
Palin's virtue, if that is the right word, is that she has a talent for expressing what those on the right really want to say, but don't usually for fear, often with good reason, that people will think less of them. It thrills them to finally hear it laid out in public and they respond with adulation for Palin who has the courage of their deepest, often hidden beliefs. If Sarah can say it and get away with it, then they can also. For this reason, her puzzled reaction to Pope Francis is instructive.
Palin has such a hard time reconciling what she has been reading about Francis with her idea of a Christian leader that she clutches at straws and stipulates that, given the possible misreporting of what she has dubbed the "lamestream" media, it might not even be true. Why do the Pope's actions, which however welcome they may be to liberals are far from revolutionary, excite such unease?
The obvious answer is that Pope Francis is attempting to espouse real, New Testament Christianity. He seems to believe that Church leaders should model in their behavior the precept that " whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me" (Matt. 25:45). He expects prelates to live as if they too believe that " it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," (Matt. 19:24). The implication that believers should follow suit is clear. You can easily understand that this might not sit too well with a conservative movement that equates poverty with unworthiness.
There is more at issue, however, than the rightwing's fuzzy social Darwinism. The real bone for Palin and her ilk is the Pope's rejection of righteous, religious militancy. He may not actually be a social liberal, but he isn't waving pitchforks and seeking out confrontations either.
Francis' more live and let live attitude has to disturb conservatives, rightwing evangelicals especially, who are both frightened and angry about the changing world in which they find themselves. In a column attempting to explain why House Republicans shut down the government although everyone knew it was not a very smart thing to do, Francis Wilkinson accurately describes the electorate that the lawmakers behind the shutdown serve:
A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren't ready for gay marriage. They weren't ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites. They weren't ready -- who was? -- for the brutal effects of globalization on working- and middle-class Americans or the devastating fallout from the financial crisis.Liberals and progressives are usually astonished, amused, and often infuriated by silly rightwing claims of victimization. Palin's "war on Christmas" book is only the latest manifestation of what many consider no more than a dishonest and absurd strategy of trying to out-victim the real victims. But while the actual claims are mostly bogus, what Wilkinson identifies as the "abject terror" that many rightwingers feel is real. He quotes a Democracy Corps report that says "evangelicals who feel most threatened by trends embrace the Tea Party because they are the ones who are fighting back." When people believe that they've been backed against a wall, they often feel that they have no recourse other than to fight.
Their representatives didn't stop Obamacare. And their side didn't "take back America" in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they're mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down.
No wonder the Christian warrior Sarah Palin is flummoxed by the new Pope. There seem to be some in the American Catholic Church who are in the same boat. When you've taken up arms and are securely planted in your bunker, it's deeply disturbing when you think you see your general waltzing over the battle lines, arm-in-arm with the enemy.