PARIS - Trying to explain American politics to my French friends and Paris media is not easy. They are still struggling to understand how Barack Obama popped out of nowhere to run for the world's most powerful office.
Now the French are even more stunned and confused by Sen. John McCain's surprise vice-presidential choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Wasilla, Alaska, a hamlet just a snowball's throw from the North Pole.
Frenchmen, being French, think she has nice legs. But no one here can understand why Republicans picked a lady whose primary experience was being mayor of a one-husky town and making moose stew.
"Mon dieu," one Parisian told me. "Those crazy Republicans must have the wish of death." No, no I explained. The party is being born again.
Palin's emergence simply confirms the final dumbing down and ruralization of the Republican Party, and its metamorphosis into a right wing politico-religious movement.
The pistol-packing Sarah Palin is the party's new housewife saint, a cross between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.
Two factors led McCain to his dramatic decision. First, 53% of American voters are women. The choice of Palin clearly was an attempt to grab disgruntled Democratic female voters who are still fuming that their heroine, Hillary Clinton, was a woman scorned.
But McCain's clumsy ploy may insult more Democratic female voters than it will attract. Palin, save for being a woman, is against almost everything Hillary Clinton supports.
Far more important, McCain chose Palin as his running mate because she is an in-your-face, born-again, evangelical Christian. Some 44-50% of Republican voters now call themselves evangelical Christians.
Concentrated in America's deep heartland and southern Bible Belt, these ultra conservative, fundamentalist white Protestants provided the Bush administration's core support in a nation where 63% believe every word in the Bible is true. Evangelical TV ayatollahs have become major political figures on America's right.
Many evangelicals believe in the absolute literal nature of the Scriptures, biblical prophecy, the Messiah's imminent return, and mankind's destruction. They oppose evolution and ecology. Evangelism has become the Republican Party's official religion, and Mrs. Palin its new high priestess.
The evangelist's view of foreign policy is simple. Either wicked France, Russia or the UN is the anti-Christ (take your pick). Muslims are evil and a menace. Israel is the paramount foreign policy issue. Support for Israel must be absolute and unlimited. All Palestinians must be expelled from the biblical Holy Land, the world's Jews gathered therein, and converted. Then the Messiah will return, Armageddon will come and Earth will be consumed by fire and brimstone.
Only born-again Christians will survive and be teleported up to heaven. The rest of us will roast.
Evangelicals were very unhappy with the choice of McCain, an East Coast Republican they viewed as theologically untrustworthy, and far too liberal when it came to social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Without a heavy turnout by evangelical voters, McCain would not have a chance of winning. That's why his original favourite for VP, the smarmy Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, was dumped in favour of kill-a-polar-bear for Jesus Mrs. Palin.
The brainy Republican political analyst Kevin Phillips, who forged Ronald Reagan's first electoral victory, makes a very important point in his must-read book, American Theocracy.
We've all heard of hockey or soccer moms, but Phillips identified an even more important voting group backing the Bush administration: "National security moms."
These middle class mothers in the outer suburbs and rural areas were petrified by the Bush administration's campaign over terrorism and scared into believing their little Johnny's in remotest Alabama and Kansas were about to become targets of al-Qaida.
So they voted in droves for Bush and Cheney, who promised to wage war on "evil."
McCain vows to continue this crusade that appeals to fear and ignorance, now led into battle by the new wilderness saint, Sarah Palin, M-16 in one hand, Bible in the other.