Sarah Palin’s Barbarism

by Patrick Brennan

It’s been no secret for a while that Sarah Palin, erstwhile vice-president candidate, is no longer a serious political contender — for evidence of that transition, note that even among her faithful, at CPAC this year, she got just 2 percent of the vote in the straw poll, tied with Condoleezza Rice. But as her crowd-pleasing performance in the very final speech of that event — and her lucrative contract with Fox News and huge social-media following — indicate, she’s gone from being a potential political leader to something of a cultural totem.

That means her speeches have gone from being standard political pabulum to something even more substanceless — more or less a long string of hokey but often amusing jokes. But for all the lightheartedness, her appeal is to a set of people who take seriously their commitment to faith and freedom, right? Well, should this line garner laughs from such a crowd?

Oh, but you can’t offend [Islamic terrorists], can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.

As Rod Dreher explains, this is pretty perverse:

Not only is this woman, putatively a Christian, praising torture, but she is comparing it to a holy sacrament of the Christian faith. It’s disgusting — but even more disgusting, those NRA members, many of whom are no doubt Christians, cheered wildly for her. . . . Palin and all those who cheered her sacrilegious jibe ought to be ashamed of themselves. For us Christians, baptism is the entry into new life. Palin invoked it to celebrate torture. Even if you don’t believe that waterboarding is torture, surely you agree that it should not be compared to baptism, and that such a comparison should be laughed at. What does it say about the character of a person that they could make that joking comparison, and that so many people would cheer for it. Nothing good — and nothing that does honor to the cause of Jesus Christ.

Torture — waterboarding being something reasonable people may consider to constitute it — is and should be a question of grave moral consequence for Christians, and is for any Catholic familiar with the Catechism. Palin wasn’t even just jokingly comparing a serious violation of human dignity into one of the most important transcendental recognitions of it – she was mounting an expansive defense of something near torture, on the grounds that our prisoners ”would obviously have information on plots,” and therefore ought to, apparently, be subjected to a horrible practice not as a morally necessary last resort but a habit of quotidian intimidation. There’s a word for that kind of practice: barbaric. The Greeks used to use it to describe the other guys.