Sarah Palin as a 21st-century Esther
Move over King David. The new biblical character of choice for public figures in distress is Queen Esther. First there was Carrie Prejean, the beauty pageant contestant embraced by Christian conservatives for her opposition to gay marriage. Focus on the Family, celebrating her “courage to speak for biblical truth” called her the “modern Queen Esther.” Now, those who monitor public utterances for coded allusions to scripture are saying that when Sarah Palin was speaking to ABC News on Tuesday—“politically speaking, if I die, I die, so be it,” the soon-to-be-former governor said—she was channeling the biblical queen, who in the fourth chapter of her eponymous book says, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Truth be told, we’re puzzled. Sure, Palin and Prejean were beauty queens, as was Esther, but beyond that, the parallels start to break down. Let’s start with politics. In the presidential campaign, the McCain-Palin ticket was against dialogue with autocratic regimes. Esther, on the other hand, wasn’t just in favor of engagement with a Persian despot—she married one! And while Palin and Prejean are proud of their outsiderness, convinced they’re being persecuted by elites, Esther was the product of a prominent political family. Her uncle Mordechai was a royal adviser—an inside-the-Beltway figure if there ever was one, the Rahm Emanuel of his day. And talk about family values! Esther’s Persia was about as louche a place as they come. When the whole megillah starts, the king, entertaining some friends, summons Esther’s predecessor, Vashti, to come join the party wearing the royal crown—the crown and nothing else, commentators say.
And so maybe the Christian conservatives should cut it out with the Esther comparisons and leave the name to a worthier heiress, someone who embodies the queen’s spirit in all its worldliness and complexity.