Chris Nelson writes one of the best daily insider political reports in Washington, call The Nelson Report. Don’t ask me for it — it’s impossible to get on the web or other ways unless you are a major client or subscriber.
But I have permission to share Nelson’s latest on Palin and the important question of how she views religion and God in her policy decision-making calculus:
The Nelson Report — September 11, 2008
Now, on Palin’s coming interview…there’s always a chance that ABC’s Charles Gibson will have the backbone to be as tough on her as he was on Clinton and Obama, in that infamous primary debate…you remember the one where questions about the American Flag pin were given equal time to policy?
If you will further indulge your Editor for a moment, here’s the gist of how we answered the question about faith, public policy and experience, from our Japanese host at lunch yesterday. We suspect that they are on the minds of policy makers throughout Asia and the world, given the shot-in-the-arm Palin has given the McCain Campaign.
Palin’s views may well be “just a heart-beat away” from setting the agenda as “leader of the free world”.
First, on religion, we don’t worry about her particular doctrinal beliefs, necessarily, although we’d like to hear about the Rapture, speaking in tongues as proof of God’s favor, and the like, these things being beyond our personal ken.
What the public has a right to know is to what political use, if any, Palin’s beliefs may be put.
That is a legitimate question for Palin, more than most politicians, because she says she bases her personal and political philosophy on her Christian faith, and is on record saying she seeks divine guidance…and receives it…on public policy matters.
So there can be no such thing as “privacy” when it comes to exploring the nexus between her personal faith and her public performance…because that’s apparently not a distinction she makes.
With respect, we argued that history shows all too clearly that leaders who think they are operating with a direct line to God’s policy recommendations have a track record written in blood. Unchallenged, they represent a huge risk to their own country and to others.
Of course we are NOT saying it’s unsafe to pray for Divine Guidance…but speaking personally, we’d be a hell of a lot happier if one kept it to asking for the strength and wisdom to make the right decision.
Abraham Lincoln’s model comes to mind, should you seek Republican guidance.
It’s asking God for the details that strikes us as dangerous, likely delusional, and from the religious point of view, quite possibly blasphemous.
The reason is simple: if you think you are in direct communication with God on matters of public policy, then anything which pops into your head, ipso facto, you may consider to be the Word of God.
If you are sensible (and we are lucky) you may not, of course…that’s where “judgment” comes in…but that’s also where the “experience” factor can become critical.
If the question under prayerful contemplation is something on which you have little or no personal experience weighing, arguing, and listening to competing points of view, then how can you parse the difference between divine inspiration and nonsense?
Picture George Bush listening to Condi Rice on many occasions, to see what we mean.
If you’ve never thought much about it before, if you’ve not been listening…for years…to permutations and combinations of the historical and policy factors involved, then with all due respect, your “judgment”, on your very best day, is likely just a guess.
Now factor-in personality: if you cleave toward an authoritarian style, how do you treat competing judgments, and arguments? If you are operating on a direct line to God, and you think you have received God’s wisdom, how do you respond to those who disagree?
Are they fellow citizens with a constitutionally protected point of view…or sinners requiring punishment? Listening to McCain and Palin talk about “Washington elites” you have to think their definition of “sinner” is elastic beyond the heavenly norm….but that may be special pleading, please Lord forgive us.
It just seems to us, we argued to the JCAW audience, that from what we’ve seen and heard so far, Palin is asking the American people to take too much on faith, when a politician tells us that he or she operates on the basis of it.
Anyhow, perhaps she will answer truthfully and thoughtfully…if our faith in Charles Gibson as a real journalist is rewarded tonight. Part 2 of the ABC TV interview will be aired Friday night.
— Steve Clemons