Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah Palin's "Theocratic Fascist" Affiliations

My opinion of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Pilan’s acceptance speech last night at the Republican National Convention?

Well . . . I thought her delivery was cold-edged and overly sarcastic. A lot of people have been saying that it was “folksy.” I think “simultaneously perky and whiny” would be a better description. As to the actual content of her speech, I found much of what she had to say to be mean-spirited, misleading, and lacking in substance.

Perhaps this mean-spiritedness can be partly accounted for by what Bill Van Auken of the
World Socialist Web Site outlines as Palin’s “political/religious affiliations” and, in particular, her links to what he calls “forces that can be best described as theocratic fascists.”

At one point, Van Auken talks about the pastor of Palin’s one-time church, Ed Kalnins, who subscribes to “the ‘last days’ belief held by a section of Christian fundamentalists that the apocalypse is at hand.” It is rhetoric, writes Van Auken, that is “consistent with that of a growing faction within the Pentecostal church known as ‘Joel’s Army,’ which directs its appeal primarily to youth in their teens and 20s, casting them as the final generation before Armageddon that must be organized into an army of God.”

Van Auken then makes the interesting observation that despite such a “toxic mix of religious fundamentalism and right-wing politics . . . there is little indication that Palin will be on the receiving end of the kind of frenzy that was unleashed against Barack Obama earlier this year over the statements made by the minister of his own church, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, mixing black nationalist rhetoric with criticisms of US foreign policy.”

Following are further excerpts from Van Auken’s commentary, “Democrats Silent on Threat from Religious Right.”


. . . There has been intense media focus on the candidate’s personal life, particularly the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter, which was revealed just days after she was named to the number-two spot on the Republican ticket.

The turning of this personal event in the life of an adolescent girl and her family into a media circus is symptomatic of the unhealthy character of American politics and of the media itself. Nonetheless, the Republicans have secretly welcomed the controversy as a means of diverting public attention from more substantive political questions and enabling it to lash out at the traditional villains of its right-wing populist demagogy — the “liberal” media and the Washington “elites.”

That Palin herself chose to thrust her daughter into the national media spotlight by accepting the nomination and that she is identified with the extreme right’s anti-sex-education, anti-contraception and anti-abortion policies that threaten the well-being of countless other teenage girls is brushed aside.

The media and the Democrats have tip-toed around the most important political implications of the Palin nomination: the fact that one of America’s two major political parties is effectively controlled by forces that can be best described as theocratic fascists, who see her nomination as a means of imposing their ideology on the country at large.

While there has been a torrent of media coverage concerning the pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol, very little attention has been paid by the mainstream media to the Alaska governor’s political-religious affiliations.

Since her nomination as the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate, it has been revealed that Palin and her husband were supporters of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a far-right outfit advocating secession from the US and dissolution of the federal government.

While Republican officials have countered these reports by citing voter registration records indicating that Sarah Palin was a registered Republican going back to 1982, the same records indicate that her husband Todd was indeed a member of the AIP, and leading members of the party report that the couple attended its 1994 convention and supported its program. Sarah Palin likewise attended the party’s 2000 convention, for which the Republicans have offered the unconvincing alibi that it was a purely ceremonial appearance which she made as mayor of the Anchorage suburb of Wasilla.

They have not accounted for the fact that earlier this year Palin sent a video message to the AIP convention, which was introduced by the party’s vice chairman George Clark, who described her as “an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town.”

What attention has been paid in the mass media to this political connection has centered largely on the “Alaska first” motto of the party, which stands in formal contradiction to the McCain campaign’s slogan of “country first.” Far more significant, however, is the fact that the AIP is the Alaskan affiliate of the Constitution Party, an ultra- rightist electoral party that emerged out of the militia movement, anti-tax extremism and the Christian fundamentalist right.

The Constitution Party puts forward a program that can be accurately described as theocratic fascism. Its commits the party “to restore American jurisprudence to its original Biblical common-law foundations.” This is the program commonly identified with a movement known as “dominion theology,” which demands the subordination of every government and institution to Christian fundamentalism, not only in the US but all over the world, together with the outlawing of all other religions and the suppression of atheism.

In addition to establishing severe criminal penalties, including death, for homosexuals, doctors who perform abortions and adulterers, the believers in this Biblical state also propose a social agenda that dovetails completely with the aims of the most reactionary sections of big business. It calls for the elimination of virtually every social reform instituted over more than a century, including minimum-wage laws, Social Security, environmental and health and safety regulations, public education and virtually any form of public assistance.

There is little doubt that Palin is extremely close to these elements. Revelations that have surfaced in recent weeks include the fact that she ran for mayor of Wasilla, a town of barely 5,000, on a right-wing Christian agenda opposing abortion and promoting gun rights, while including in her literature the promise that her victory meant the town “will have our first Christian mayor.”

After becoming mayor, Palin attempted to fire the town’s librarian for refusing to ban certain books. Opposition from residents forced her to drop the plan.

Videos have surfaced of Palin speaking before her church barely three months before she was tapped for the number-two spot on the Republican ticket, extolling the US intervention in Iraq as a holy war.

Addressing the congregation at the church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, in June, Palin declared: “Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [US troops] out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”

She went on to suggest that her proposal for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska was also part of “God’s plan.”

The pastor of her church, Ed Kalnins, has been recorded warning his parishioners in 2004 that those who voted for Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry could be damned to hell. Similarly, he denounced those who criticized the Bush administration for its criminal neglect in the face of Hurricane Katrina, stating: “I hate criticisms towards the president, because it’s like criticisms towards the pastor — it’s almost like, it’s not going to get you anywhere, you know, except for hell. That’s what it’ll get you.”

Kalnins is also a subscriber to the “last days” belief held by a section of Christian fundamentalists that the apocalypse is at hand. He has urged his congregation to be prepared for a mass migration to Alaska, which he believes will be one of the last “refuges” for those fleeing destruction.

. . . The rhetoric is consistent with that of a growing faction within the Pentecostal church known as “Joel’s Army,” which directs its appeal primarily to youth in their teens and 20s, casting them as the final generation before Armageddon that must be organized into an army of God. In some cases, military terminology extends to referring to preachers as “commanders” and clearly suggests that the mission is to impose Christian dominion by force.

A recent article on this tendency prepared by the Southern Poverty Law Center cited critics within the church warning that “actual bloodletting may only be a matter of time for a movement that casts itself as God’s avenging army.”

. . . While the implications of this toxic mix of religious fundamentalism and right-wing politics are ominous, there is little indication that Palin will be on the receiving end of the kind of frenzy that was unleashed against Barack Obama earlier this year over the statements made by the minister of his own church, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, mixing black nationalist rhetoric with criticisms of US foreign policy.

Within the Republican Party, none of these revelations has had any discernable impact on the immense popularity of Palin’s nomination among those attending the St. Paul convention. This is because the party’s “base” is made up to a large extent of the Christian right, which sees in Palin one of their own.

This layer has largely dictated the Republican platform, including an immigration plank that calls for mass deportations, the building of the US-Mexico wall and the recognition of English as an official language, stopping just short of stripping citizenship from children of undocumented immigrants born on US soil. Now it is savoring the prospect that a right-wing Christian fundamentalist will be a “heart beat away” from assuming the office of “commander-in-chief.”

More importantly, neither Obama nor any section of the Democratic Party leadership has the stomach for making these connections a political issue.

Clearly, a campaign could be waged to expose the threat that such religious-based politics pose to basic democratic rights in America. A poll done by the Pew Research Center just last month showed a clear majority of Americans favoring the separation of church and state and expressing the view that churches should stay out of politics.

There are millions upon millions of working people who are fed up with having Christian fundamentalism shoved down their throats by right-wing politicians using religious rhetoric to justify social inequality, wars of aggression, tax cuts for the rich and every other political demand of the financial elite.

Yet the Democrats have no intention of appealing to these sentiments and challenging the Christian right. Rather, their aim is to compete for votes by adapting to it. This is the real source of the kid-gloves treatment given the Palin nomination.

To read Bill Van Auken’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Palin’s Church May Have Shaped Controversial Worldview - Nico Pitney and Sam Stein (, September 2, 2008).
Palen’s RNC Acceptance Speech: Claims Versus Facts - Jim Kuhneheun (Associated Press, September 3, 2008)
The Man Behind Palin’s Speech - Massimo Calabresi (Time, September 4, 2008).
Palin’s Misunderstanding of History - Timothy Kincaid (Box Turtle Bulletin, September 2, 2008).
Palin’s Anti-Gay “Pro-Gay” Veto - Jim Burroway (Box Turtle Bulletin, September 1, 2008).
Palin’s Church Promotes Converting Gays - Rachel D’oro (Associated Press, September 5, 2008).
The Sarah Palin FAQ - Slate (September 4, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Real Fascist Threat in Europe
Reality Check

Image 1: Sarah Palin. (Photographer unknown)
Image 2: Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin holds her son, Trig, as her daughter, Bristol, left, and her boyfriend, Levi Johnston join her on stage after her speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN, Wednesday, September 3, 2008. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Image 3: US Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention in St Paul, Minnesota on September 3. (AFP/Robyn Beck)


Liam said...

I do wish people would not throw the word fascist around so liberally - it dilutes the word meaninglessness, which is unfortunate. Sarah Palin may be many things, but she's not, as best I can tell from what has been disclosed so far, a fascist.

Theocratic also is innacurate - it has a specific meaning, and it doesn't apply here either. Last I knew, people who didn't share Palin's religious views were perfectly free to do so in Alaska.

Sloppy agitprop undercuts the credibility of opposition. And that's not good, because there's much to oppose.

This election is about the presidential nominees. The VP candidates are only relevant to the extent they reveal something about them that picked them. And we learned a lot about McCain from his process of choosing a VP, likewise Obama. Those are the take-aways. Everything else is pretty incidental.

My take-aways: of the two, McCain is actually the more utopian, and the one with less impulse control. He's the one who decides first and counts costs later (a feature of utopians). We've had that rule for at least 7.5 years and in some respects 15.5 years, and we don't need more of it.

Obama is not a latter-day messiah and has significant flaws in policy (the windfall profits tax nostrum for one; also, I profoundly disagree with his approach on abortion and ESCR). But he is clearly the more deliberate and cautious of the two men, but not in a paralyzing Carteresque way.

The vexing current moral issue that the Presidency has the most direct impact on is torture and war.(A president's impact on abortion and ESCR is more attentuated - not non-existent, but fairly attenuated, and still subject to larger political factors such as those that led South Dakotans to vote down a fairly strong anti-abortion law in recent years, but I digress). I don't expect Obama is really going to be as principled on war as Just War principles dictate, because Americans as a whole are consequentialists when it comes to war and it's reflected in our politics and policies. But we do know his legal team is busy working on hacking away at the Cheney-Addington unitary executive theory that was, among *many* other things, the legal foundation for the torture practiced with the blessing of the current Administration.

Back in 2004, I voted for a progressive seamless-garment third-party candidate from Minnesota. Doesn't seem I have that choice this time round.

Mark Andrews said...

Sorry, but I give Bill Van Auken's attempt to paint Sarah Palin as a scary monster as much credence as I do to Rush Limbaugh's attempts to paint Barak Obama as a scary monstor, which is to say none at all.

Van Auken is correct about this though: we are not hearing or having a dispassionate discussion, insofar as that is possible, about the challenges facing the U.S. and the best way to meet those challenges - who will meet them, how to meet them, and at what initial and continuing cost. And, in meeting them, to decide what challenges the Federal government is best and lease suited to deal with.

That discussion - especially how to pay for it - is the one that needs to happen. Its also the quickest way to push aside bickering about belief and motive only. For example, a good way to discuss drilling for oil and natural gas on the Alaskan North Slope is to discuss how much it will cost (in environmental impact and dollars), initially and on an on-going basis, to obtain a given level of resources, knowing that those resources are not infinite. Is it better to mine that stuff now or (as I like to think) for my son's grandchildren to make that decision for themselves? To me THAT's conservatism, when you actually save something useful for later, but I digress.

If somebody says "Well, the Lord's commin' and the world's endin' so it doesn't matter if we use those resources now or not," I can only say "If the Lord tarries, we're back to the original question, eh?"

I don't buy into fear mongering on the Left or the Right. Would that our candidates and their supporters did the same.

Renegade Eye said...

She is her generation's Phyllis Schafley.

Michael J. Bayly said...

I don’t think the terms “theocratic” and “fascist” can be so easily separated. Theocratic tendencies are a characteristic of fascism. I also think it’s accurate to ascribe the term “fascist” to aspects of Palin’s “Christian right” affiliations. After all such affiliations are undeniably entwined with and supportive of the Bush administration – and this administration, as Dr. Lawrence Britt has documented, reflects in varying degrees the “fourteen characteristics of fascism.”

Dr. Britt, who is a political scientist, wrote an article about fascism that appeared in Free Inquiry magazine – a journal of humanist thought.

Britt studied the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile). He found the regimes all had fourteen things in common, and he calls these the “identifying characteristics of fascism.”

His article is titled ‘Fascism Anyone?’, and appears in Free Inquiry’s Spring 2003 issue on page 20. [Click here to read the complete text of article.]

According to Britt, the fourteen characteristics of fascism are as follows. (And as you read them, keep in mind the words and actions of Bushs, Palins, and other Christian right Republicans, and their various political-religious affiliations.)

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need". The people tend to 'look the other way' or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; and classifying the "enemy" as "liberals"; "communists"; "socialists", "terrorists", etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or through sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the general population.

8. Fundamentalist Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the fundamentalist expressions of religion as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses, and even forego civil liberties, in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions, and who use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against (or even the assassination of) opposition candidates, the use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and the manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Rob said...

Van Auken isn't calling Palin a fascist, but rather her "political-religious affiliations". And judging from the characteristics of fascism that Michael shared, I think it's safe to say that these affiliations, or at least aspects of them, are indeed fascist.

Liam said...

Britt takes valid concepts but expands their meaning to fairly platitudinous or equivocal generalities, thus draining the term of real meaning. It reminds me of how elastic the word "communist" became in many parts of the US for a long time (and still is in much smaller eddies thereof).

My point stands - and I feel reaffirmed that the term is being flung around for its believed rhetorical power when in fact the flinging drains it of any power.

I find that use of rhetorical neither helpful to the cause to which it ostensibly put nor terribly Christian in the end. Let's not get consequentialist in our opposition to people who merit opposition. Because that is simply mirroring the sin, not transcending it. And that's worse, however understandable and human. Christian discipleship is tougher than agitprop. (And the moment someone decides they are merely imitating Christ's (a) verbal barbs at the Pharisees or Saducees, or (b) "holy anger" in the cleansing of the Temple, is the moment someone has anointed her/himself a prophet instead of being chosen by God, so let's not go down that dead-ended road).

I hate it when the Bill Donohue et al. misuse rhetoric for ostensibly Catholic ends but in non-Catholic ways, and therefore I am bound to call out my own "side" (as it were) when it falls into that same foul trap.

Clayton said...

Raising the specter of a theocracy seems a bit alarmist. I have to agree with Archbishop Chaput on this one:

"Some persons do sincerely and deeply worry about religion hijacking public life. I respect their views. I also find their worries excessive. I agree that religious people who act or speak rashly can cause such fears. But too often, I find that both of these slogans -- "don't impose your beliefs on society" and "the separation of church and state" -- have little to do with fact. Instead, they're used as debating tools; a kind of verbal voodoo. People employ them to shut down serious thought.... The truth is, no one in mainstream American politics wants a theocracy. No one in mainstream public life wants to force uniquely Catholic doctrines into federal law. So we need to see these slogans for what they are: foolish and sometimes dishonest arguments that confuse our national memory and identity."

Trevor said...

Liam, are you saying that the "generalities" put forth by Lawrence Britt aren't characteristics of fascism?

And if they're not the characteristics of fascism, what are? Can you provide alternatives?

LIam said...


I am saying that Britt has cleverly defined those generalities in an equivocal and plastic way to relate to people he probably opposes today - I suspect anachronism in that regard.

I don't have to prove that Palin is not a fascist. Someone has to prove she is in a reasonably persuasive way. So far, the argument in that regard is not persuasive, and to that extent may eventually cast doubt on the credibility and bona fides of them who venture it if they persist for rhetorical effect. (Basically, my argument is rhetorical and logical.)

I am not a supporter of Palin. But opposition to her in this vein is one of the best fuels for her supporters. Continue if it pleases you, but don't be deluded that it's somehow prophetic truth-telling rather than a ego-satisfying rhetorical punching bag.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Liam and Trevor,

An interesting conversation taking place here.

For all it's worth I do find Dr. Britt's "characteristics of fascism" persuasive - not in proving Sarah Palin is a fascist (remember Britt devised these characteristics five years ago) but in highlighting that aspects of the religious right (a political-religious movement that's been influential in this country for a number of years and one to which Palin aligns herself) does indeed have fascist overtones and/or tendencies.