Stein is described by Salon's David Talbot as "a Protestant Christian from a Pennsylvania Dutch background." Stein's own rather charitable interpretation is that "they were redefining Christianity to mean born-agains." Some of his supporters interpreted it as a none-too-subtle attempt to suggest that he was Jewish. Y'know, with a name like Stein and all.
The anecdote raises a lot of issues, primarily around what it means to be "a Christian." For some people (say, Pope Pius IX), it means nothing more than to have been baptized -- that was his rationale for kidnaping a child who would otherwise have ben raised Jewish. For others, it means professing Christian beliefs, or -- and this is not the same thing -- participating regularly in Christian worship. And yes, for many Christians, especially among what we Lutherans call the Schwaermer, it means sharing the peculiar beliefs of one particular sect. (So that, for example, the members of Third Holiness Kingdom of Mercy, a storefront church in Detroit, pray weekly for the day when Roman Catholics and Presbyterians will see the light and become "Christians.")
Obviously, this story makes us wonder about the level of tacit anti-Semitism in Wasilla.
It also raises significant questions about Gov. Palin herself. Stein, a fellow Republican, had been one of her political mentors, and their families were apparently friendly. So Palin surely knew something about their religious views. She also, surely, knew that Stein and his wife were legally married, despite the rumors to the contrary that her campaign launched. It seems that cozying up to more powerful men before turning on them is a recurring theme in Palin's history, a fact which ought to keep Sen. McCain on his toes).
She may also have realized that, despite their emotional appeal to some voters, the hot-button issues of "God, guns and abortion" had little to do with the work of a small-town mayor, even as she injected them into the race. That's another recurring theme -- or perhaps you didn't hear her speech at the convention?
But it also raises questions about bigger things than own Alaska's All About Eve. It points to a difference between two kinds of politics, and two kinds of politicians. There are the earnest types, who think that the issues which matter are the ones directly pertaining to their office, and the rabble-rousers, who think that any words which will excite a voter's passion can legitimately be considered "issues." The first type -- let's call them "statesmen" -- talk about sewers, highways, and (at more elevated levels) fiscal policy. The second type -- let's call them "demagogues" -- prefer to let an election hang on Darwin, gay people and the Second Amendment.
For many years, John McCain was a good example of the first type; after his primary defeat by the second type, in 2000, he went over to the Dark Side.
And this brings us to Sen. Obama. It seems unlikely that Palin ever sat down with McCain or his flunkies and said, "Hey, y'know what works great when you're running against somebody who knows more about the issues than you do? Calling him a Jew. Or a Muslim." There is no evidence that McCain had ever met Palin, or for that matter heard her name, when the slurs against Obama began to fly. It seems, instead, that the campaign against Obama has been demagogic nearly from the start, to roughly the degree that his has been statesmanlike. And the fact that Palin had once run a similar campaign against her friend and mentor is just a happy coincidence.
In a sense, then. McCain may be right hen he claims that Palin is his "soul mate." In the sense that neither has much of a soul.