WELCOME Andrew Sullivan readers! (July 8, 2009)
Before you take that Xanax, you might want to read this.
Some memes are so appropriate they begin popping up in multiple places at once without a whole lot of coordination. I recall reading — sometime last week — a passing comparison between Sarah Palin and the Bible’s Queen Esther on a blog comment thread I can no longer find. So this morning, the thought pops back in my head and, curious, I Google ‘Esther’ and ‘Palin’.
What should turn up? A New York Times article on exactly that, fresh this morning! Go figure. I don’t even read the NYT that much anymore. (H/T: The Deacon’s Bench) Here’s the lede (and yes, it’s spelled l-e-d-e):
Shortly after taking office as governor in 2006, Sarah Palin sent an e-mail message to Paul E. Riley, her former pastor in the Assembly of God Church, which her family began attending when she was a youth. She needed spiritual advice in how to do her new job, said Mr. Riley, who is 78 and retired from the church.
“She asked for a biblical example of people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership,” Mr. Riley said.
He wrote back that she should read again from the Old Testament the story of Esther, a beauty queen who became a real one, gaining the king’s ear to avert the slaughter of the Jews and vanquish their enemies. When Esther is called to serve, God grants her a strength she never knew she had. [emphasis added]
CNN ran with the same basic facts last Wednesday.
Just a few short months ago, I sat at the kitchen table of Rev. Paul Riley and his wife, Helen, in Wasilla, Alaska. This soft-spoken elderly couple may be two of just a handful of people who are not surprised by her nomination as John McCain’s choice for vice president of the United States.
Palin grew up in the Rileys’ church, and they share a sense of destiny about Palin’s future. When she was elected governor, Riley told Palin that like the Old Testament story of Queen Esther, she had “come to the Kingdom for such a time as this.” [emphasis added]
So what’s all this then about a 2,500-year-old Old Testament short story, sandwiched between Nehemiah and the better known Job that doesn’t even make an “explicit reference to God, worship, prayer, or sacrifice”? (as my NIV Study Bible notes). Perhaps a lot. My NIV annotation goes on to point out that the absence of explicit God references in the story “…heighten[s] the [awareness] that it is God who controls and directs all the seemingly insignificant coincidences…” I.e., in the historical story and, by extension, in the world in general, throughout all time and eternity.
I’ll admit to being a complete biblical moron (on this at least) until just six months ago. (Now I’m merely a moron). I only became acquainted with Esther when a friend preached on it during a lay speaking class we took back in March. It’s one of the easier stories to follow in the Bible: a tight set-up, then lots of tension, intrigue and a surprise ending, all revolving around just a couple of characters. It’s also short–both each chapter and the whole thing. Definitely a one-cupper (coffee, that is). Here are the seven chapters:
one, (Queen Vashti deposed)
two (Esther made Queen and Mordecai uncovers a conspiracy),
three (Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews),
four (Moredecai persuades Esther to help)
five (Esther’s request to the King and Haman’s rage against Mordecai),
six (surprise ending, part I),
seven (surprise ending, part II)
The biblical Queen Esther came out of virtually nowhere, based in large part on her looks (though she was, clearly, smart). She was not really seeking power. By the time the story takes place, she is a well-known if not longstanding public figure (Queen). As the New York Times noted last May, before things got hot and partisan all of a sudden:
“Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, is on many lists [for first female President]— she’s known as a reformer as well as for riding a motorcycle…”) [emphasis added]
(As a side note, for you biblical non-morons, anyone wants to make the comparison between ‘Queen’ Hillary and Queen Vashti, please be my guest.)
One major (and creepily precise) parallel involves Esther’s role in averting an impending Jewish holocaust brought on by deep hatred on the part of a few nut-job Persians in positions of power. (Persia = modern-day Iran). That’s the same Iran that has vowed to wipe Israel off the map and is well on their way to acquiring the nuclear weaponry to do so — with no effective opposition (and considerable de facto support) from the international community. And along comes tough, clear-eyed, plain-speaking Sarah Palin.
Despite the MSM’s hypocritical attempts to change the subject to her supposed irresponsibility in not staying home and baking cookies, she is rather well versed in international affairs. (Go watch The Speech.)
Having a true view of human nature and an understanding that evil really does exist is an excellent starting point — far better, I might argue than the globe-trotting, camera-hogging moral equivalence stuff we’re getting from Obama and his hundreds of advisors. (I still marvel at his comment that the Russian invasion of Georgia should be taken up by the UN Security Council… a body in which Russia has a unilateral veto. My two-year-old niece could figure that one out without much coaching, I suspect.)
But I digress. As I wrote last week, one of the reasons for optimism (though hardly the only one) around Palin’s knowledge of foreign affairs includes her dealings with Russia:
Russia. They are becoming (if they ever stopped being) one of our most formidable adversaries. Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state) is just the beginning. They also support Iran. There will be a showdown. And Palin’s state is the only one that directly borders them. Back in the ’80s, in the waning days of the Cold War, a woman whose name escapes me at the moment, swam from Big Diomede to Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait (or maybe it was the other way ’round). From the U.S. to Russia. From Alaska to Russia. They’re that close. One can see Russia from Palin’s home state. Fishing grounds overlap and she’s had to deal with negotiating and maintaining good relations there. OK, it’s fishing, not nukes, but it’s nonetheless deadly serious…
There’s no need to overplay that one. It is what it is — ultimately an incremental point. We have to keep in mind though, is that it is McCain’s extensive experience in war and foreign affairs (recall that he lived in a foreign country, albeit involuntarily, for over seven years) that should be compared with Obama’s. The fact that his #2 passes the test also is merely a bonus.
So have that cup of coffee, brush up on your Iran/Russia/Israel headlines, read the Book of Esther, and let me know what you think. It just may be that Sarah Palin was made for just such a time as this.