I said then, and I will repeat now, that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust. But I believed then, and I believe today, that we do have a choice. We can choose to be defined by our differences, and give in to a future of suspicion and mistrust. Or we can choose to do the hard work of forging common ground, and commit ourselves to the steady pursuit of progress.
-- President Barack Obama, speaking on U.S. relations with the Muslim world in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 10, 2010.
We must continue to build on our Judeo-Christian heritage, and it's nothing to apologize for.
-- Sarah Palin, speaking at a fundraiser for the Plumstead Christian School, Plumsteadville, Pa., Nov. 9. 2010.
Yesterday afternoon, Sarah Palin showed up at a Christian school in a Philadelphia exurbs bearing sugar cookies. By the time she left night, the former governor and possible would-be 45th president of the United States had launched nothing less than a holy war for the nation's political future.
Most people in the media paid more attention to the cookies.
Don't be fooled by the sugar rush. Speaking to an adoring audience of about 600 souls in the gymnasium of the Plumstead Christian School who paid as much as $75 to $250 a ticket for the privilege, Palin made it clear last night what conservatives plan to make the 2012 presidential election all about -- with a simple two-word phrase that she uttered more than a half-dozen times, just in case people weren't paying close enough attention.
"We can't lose this next generation -- we have to keep teaching them what it means to be an American -- the American exceptionalism that so many of us do embrace," said Palin, staking out the notion that the United States is fated to be the moral leader and world superpower among nations as more even more politically potent than reducing the deficit or smaller government, the issues that so many Palin- and Tea Party-backed Republicans ran on in the 2010 elections.
"We can't lose that for the next generation that will soon be rising up and be our leaders," Palin added, hailing the efforts of the creationism-teaching Christian school for which her appearance -- paid for by an anonymous benefactor -- reportedly netted $250,000.
It was a remarkable moment of clarity, making plain what -- on an emotional level -- the 2012 presidential election will really be about for many voters.
At virtually the same time that Palin was speaking to an all- or almost-all-white and mostly middle-aged or older crowd at the Christian school just off a busy exurban highway lined with strip shopping centers and Wawa convenience stores, President Obama was halfway around the world in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation where he spent four years as a child. Obama was pushing forward with the message that his younger and more multi-cultural alliance of voters had elected him to deliver in 2008, in the wake of the Iraq war and the other debacles of George W. Bush -- that America was a nation that would again celebrate its diversity at home while repairing its strained relationship with the rest of the world.
Here in a small Pennsylvania town that Palin surely would include in her famous 2008 remark about campaigning in the "pro-America areas of this great nation," the former half-term Alaska governor -- sounding more like a potential 2012 candidate than ever, saying in response to a question that "if I run, I'm in it to win it" -- bet that the winning argument in two years will be an emphasis on restoring the notion of American exceptionalism in the world and on faith -- specifically, Judeo-Christian faith, as she made clear -- at home.
Palin voiced her concern that "we are not educating our youth in the exceptional nature of America because American exceptionalism is something that every generation has to be its own if we expect our Republic and our liberties to be secure and to live on. For America to survive we've got to pass it on to the next generation."
That was the real takeaway from Palin in Plumsteadville -- even if the ABC, CNN, and MSNBC headlines went to "Cookiegate," her very calculated shot at the notion reported recently that school authorities in Pennsylvania might crack down or even ban sweets as part of a broader war on youth obesity -- which to Palin and her Tea Party bona fides is a symbol of creeping Big Brother authoritarianism.
Palin said that she arrived at the school bearing "dozens and dozens" of sugar cookies. The gesture was pretty much as close to a serious policy discussion that the possible presidential hopeful got last night "Who should be making the decisions what you eat, school choice and everything else?," she asked. "Should it be government or should it be the parents? It should be the parents." She did add later, in response to a question, that the first thing she'd do if she were president would be to "repeal Obamacare."
But getting government -- partially, anyway -- out of the health care business and out of the business of healthy eating rules were only the symptoms of Palin's main message, that the next president -- whether it is her or another conservative -- needs to undo Obama's notion of "fundmental transformation" and that the goal is ""fundamental restoration and renewal," including the return of those Judeo-Christian values. She defended the Glenn Beck "Restoring Honor" rally in August at which she spoke. "We came to hear the message to turn back to God -- and what a thing to talk about in the public square," she said.
Echoing the views that are becoming conservative dogma with the help of commentators like Beck and Texas textbook jihadist David Barton, Palin argued that much of America's greatness is rooted in God, from the laws embodied into the Constitution to our oil and gas reserves "God has created massive natural resources in our country," Palin said, another theme that she returned to repeatedly -- ignoring the fact that U.S. oil production peaked in 1970, which is why we have turned overseas to meet what even Bush acknowledged is our "addiction to oil." Palin added that "America may be founded by laws, but it is sustained by morality."
The pundits keep saying that Americans vote their pocketbook, but Palin seems to be betting that in 2012 they will vote their gut, and she believes that a return to "American exceptionalism" is the emotional trump card that will swing the electorate away from Obama's "change" message of 2008. No one lingered on the irony that Palin's words came in the very same week that the 43rd president was on national television. trying and failing to explain an Iraq war in which thousands died upon the "exceptional" notion that America needed to flex its muscle in the world's oil-producing region, spreading our notion of democracy with deadly "shock and awe."
Before Palin spoke last night, there was a lot of pomp and circumstance, including a long tribute to American troops. At one point, two class presidents from the Plumstead Christian School read a long, long list of the numbers that were killed and wounded in each of our major wars, right up through Iraq and Afghanistan. What would be truly exceptional would be if -- the next time that a presidential hopeful comes to Plumsteadville, Pa. -- the list of American men and women killed in any hubris-fueled overseas adventures is no longer than it is today.