James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Falwell’

Anticipating eruptions: Volcano and Palin prompt redoubt

Posted by James McPherson on January 29, 2009

One definition of the word “redoubt” is “to stand in dread of; to regard with fear; to dread.” That definition might apply to two events facing Alaska: the possible eruption of a volcano named Mount Redoubt, and an increasingly likely presidential run by Gov. Sarah Palin. We keep seeing more meanings  for her phrase, “I’ll get back to ya.”

In fact, Mount Redoubt has erupted a number of times. Despite being located about a hundred miles from Alaska’s largest city, it probably will never cause Alaskans the grief that those of us in the Pacific Northwest experienced with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

A more ominous event for Alaskans and the rest of us may be the establishment of Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC.com, leading to a new eruption of speculation about her viability as a presidential candidate. Incidentally, what is it with leading political women–Hillary Clinton, this includes you–that they can’t get enough support by using their last names, as male candidates do?

The images used for the SarahPAC website are fascinating from a media literacy standpoint. The dominant image is of Palin, pictured from below so as to make her look more powerful, looking slightly upward while holding her hands in what could be a praying position. Behind and beside her is a scenic Alaskan vista–despite the fact that SarahPAC is based in Arlington, Va., a seat of power that hosts numerous other political organizations (including the Leadership Institute, which calls itself “the premier training ground for tomorrow’s conservative leaders,” though it is not above using dishonest means of self-promotion–more on that below.)

Finally on the SarahPAC website, next to letters spelling out “SARAHPAC,” is an image of the continental United States with Alaska superimposed over it. The image lets us see the immense size of the state that Palin governs, yet also manages to place her state literally in the heartland of America (apparently obliterating Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska, along with parts of a few other states). The Democratic bastion of Hawaii is nowhere to be seen–perhaps Republicans wish we’d stopped adding states after Alaska became the 49th.

SarahPAC should not be confused with another another PAC, PalinPAC.org based in Washington state, with a website that boasts a photo of cross-shaped sunlight shining through an American flag and prominent links to “Sarah Palin’s Page” and “Todd Palin’s Page.” But both SarahPAC.org and PalinPAC.org also demonstrate the games that politicians play (and perhaps must play, under the current campaign finance system). Despite the names of the organizations, the home pages of both include a line that disingenuously reads, “Not authorized by any candidate or any candidate’s committee.”

Palin says she may not run for president, of course, and says that the establishment of a PAC simply provides “an available source of funds so that we’re not coming close to any ethical line to be crossed in terms of travel or participation in events that will help Alaska, but could be seen perhaps as not worthy of state funding.” I wonder how big the clothing allowance is for “participation in events.”

And despite her protestations, a presidential bid is likely unless significant unexpected problems arise. We’ll see: As Robert Schlesinger writes for U.S. News & World Report, “A sure sign that Palin is gearing up specifically for a presidential run will be SarahPAC making contributions to New Hampshire and Iowa state-level candidates and parties.”

Following up his piece of yesterday, Schlesinger wrote today (in a piece titled, “Yes, Sarah Palin is Running for President, Or Getting Ready to Anyway”): “But politicians—especially rising star pols like Palin—don’t raise money and make national appearances out of the goodness of their hearts; they don’t do it because of unselfish dedication to party; and they don’t do it because they want to raise their state’s profile. She may not be running for president yet (though the FEC seems to think she is), but she’s positioning herself to run in a couple of years.”

Incidentally, other definitions of redoubt are “an entrenched stronghold or refuge” or “a small, often temporary defensive fortification.” In the case of Palin, despite my one-time support of her choice as John McCain’s running mate, I hope her political presence is more temporary than entrenched.

Oh, and as for the dishonesty of the Leadership Institute: As I’ve written elsewhere, a couple of years ago I checked out the membership of its “Bi-Partisan Congressional Advisory Board” and found that the board was comprised of “102 Republicans, all living, and one long-dead Democrat–ultraconservative Georgian Larry McDonald, who … was so conservative that at the time of he death he served as the second-ever national chairman of the John Birch Society, which had long since been rejected even by most conservatives as an extremist organization.”

McDonald died on a Korean airliner that was shot down by the Soviet Union after it apparently accidentally flew into Soviet airspace, prompting Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell to bizarrely state, “There is real question in my mind that the Soviets may have actually murdered 269 passengers and crew on the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 to kill Larry McDonald.”

You may also remember that one of the pithier complaints that popped up about Palin during the 2008 campaign was that she was “Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.” Palin and Falwell also apparently shared a debate coach.

Next day update: The volcano hasn’t blown yet, but remains on CNN’s front page.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Favoring a Christian president–or not

Posted by James McPherson on August 19, 2008

Despite criticism leveled at John McCain for saying last year that he would prefer that the United States have a Christian president, most Americans apparently agree. Not that it matters much–despite the loons who still maintain that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, no non-Christian has mounted a serious candidacy for decades, other than perhaps Mormon Mitt Romney (a definitional issue too complicated to get into here, but which may cause interesting problems for social conservatives if McCain tabs Romney as his vice presidential nominee–see the arguments here and here).

The mixed emotions among people of faith about Romney’s candidacy point out a significant problem with the “Christian president” theme. Even those who prefer a Christian leader don’t agree is about what kind of Christian president they want. Should he (or she, assuming we’ll someday get there) be in line with John Hagee, Jeremiah Wright, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the “Jesus for President” folks, or some other version of Christianity?

Should it be someone who believes that even Christian founding fathers intended for a separation of church and state, or someone who believes that those founders intended to create a “Christian nation” (though as religious scholar Stephen J. Stein points out in a recent article in Historically Speaking, “Virtually all Protestant clergy at the time were persuaded that the Antichrist was the pope”–the leader of the same church that now provides conservatives with much of their support (along with five of the nine members of the Supreme Court)?

How does one decide which candidates–or non-candidates–are Christian enough? Heavy conservative contributor Rev. Sun Myung Moon owns the Washington Times, which has become perhaps the best-known conservative newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal. Yet Moon, who also founded the American Family Coalition and calls himself a Christian, also refers to himself and his wife as “the first couple to have the complete blessing of God, and to be able to bring forth children with no original sin.” Despite Moon’s wacky views, I don’t know of any conservative Christian candidates who refuse his money or who seek to be excluded from the Times.

Like every other regular faculty member at the university in which I teach, I am a Christian. So is one of my best friends, but we disagree on many things. The university president, in his latest quarterly message to alums and friends of the university, lists among 15 things he loves about the school: “An environment in which people who disagree with each other protect each other. I have yet to meet a faculty member on the liberal-conservative continuum who wants to silence his or her counterparts. In fact, faculty and staff members at Whitworth recognize that, ultimately, freedom to disagree provides protection for their ideas.” I can’t think of any faculty member here, though, who would make a good U.S. president.

Many conservatives hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom were “Christian presidents” who expressed their faith more often and more comfortably than conservative heroes Barry Goldwater (who fell short of the presidency, of course) and Ronald Reagan. They generally disliked Roosevelt for his practical application (government intervention) of what he saw as Christian duty, while bashing Carter for failing to apply his own Southern Baptist views strictly enough. The two worst presidents of my lifetime–and the two generally recognized as the most religious–have been Carter and George W. Bush.

One key question is how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief in Christ. One thing seems certain, however: a president who professes Christian principles and then seriously fails to live up to those principles–to me, Clinton and Bush are obvious examples–ill serves both the nation and his fellow Christians.

In addition, as I suggested yesterday with my discussion of the Saddleback Church forum, the nation also is poorly served when it stresses the faith of its president above all else. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted before the forum that Abraham Lincoln would likely fail to measure up to today’s religious standards for presidential candidates (he might also be viewed as too inexperienced and too homely to be a serious candidate, of course).

All else being equal, I’d prefer a Christian president. But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.

Added note: Somewhat related to this post (and perhaps slightly more related to yesterday’s), this al-Jazeera column offers an interesting discussion of religion in America and of evil as defined by U.S. presidential candidates. For example:

If religious interviews were done with such fanfare and influence in a Muslim country, democratic or otherwise, western and especially US media would have made mockery of such an imposition of religious fundamentalism on political process. 

For most outsiders, the US is in denial over its own “evil doing” around the world. Obama and McCain could see evil in Darfur but would not admit that the invasion and occupation of Iraq on false premises or for oil is no less an evil act.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Columnist Kathleen Parker, who takes a generally conservative position on most issues, also criticizes the Saddleback forum.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »