Jay Carney of Time magazine puts Gov. Palin in her place for knowing less about the Pledge of Allegiance than he thinks he does. As a gubernatorial candidate, Mrs. Palin was presented with a questionnaire asking, “Are you offended by the phrase ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?” She answered, “Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.”
Carney condescends to Palin over this. She “seems not to be a keen student of American history,” he says. He chides her for being unaware that the Pledge and, in particular, its “under God” phrase “both were written long after the founders (and the framers, for that matter) were dead and buried.” He then offers an additionally condescending explanation for her failure to match his understanding of American political history: “My guess is she was conflating one conservative conviction, adherence to ‘original intent’ when interpreting the Constitution, with another, the belief that the separation of church and state has gone too far. If so, her confusion is not limited to the history of the Pledge.”
The problem is that Palin’s exuberant response to the questionnaire reflects a more informed understanding of the Pledge and the founding fathers than Carney’s snarky one. As James Piereson argued, the addition of the phrase “under God” to the Pledge in 1954 reached back to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “[We] here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Piereson connects Lincoln’s use of the phrase “under God” to Jefferson and Washington. In “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Jefferson wrote, forebodingly, “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.” As for Washington, in the general orders he circulated to his troops on July 2, 1776, he wrote, “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.”
Carney’s assumption that the original intent of the Founders was a republic uncomfortable with the non-sectarian invocation of God’s providence and support cannot be reconciled with even a cursory examination of the historical record. The Declaration of Independence, famously, speaks of “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and holds the truth to be self-evident that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Less famously but as eloquently, George Washington closed his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island of August 1790 by saying, “May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Depending on the outcome of the election, we can look forward to either two months or four years of people who know less about America than Sarah Palin arrogantly imagining that they know more.