It’s probably not a good idea generally to buy a book out of spite, but in some ways that is precisely what I did when I picked up Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. We had had a meeting at work, and several of my co-workers were amusing themselves with some anti-Palin jibes. So at lunch time I decided to take a stroll to the local book store and pick up Palin’s book, prompting the “Oh, Sarah Palin” observation from the clerk, who must be wondering why anyone in the middle of enlightened Dupont Circle would be interested in the right-wing Neanderthal. And I have to admit that I also delayed reading the book until after I got home from Thanksgiving vacation so that I could proudly read the book on the Metro.
In some ways my spite-driven motivation for buying the book was appropriate considering the at-time spite-driven content of the book. Much of her chapters about the 2008 presidential election campaign and its aftermath seemed somewhat, dare I say, catty. She closes one chapter by describing an outing she had with a group of reporters soon after she announced her resignation this past summer. She took them along with her on a fishing expedition, and she laments the fact that it turned out to be a nice day, prompting her to comment, “Instead of a typical Bristol Bay weather, it was sunny, hot, and flat calm, so – dang it – none of them got slimed.”
One’s reaction to that reflection hinges on one’s disposition towards Palin. Either it’s indicative of a petty mind, or it shows that she’s got a little spunk – and a sense of humor as well. After four hundred pages of reading I lean towards the latter, though I can’t help but think that there’s a little bit of the former thrown in as well. But after the press’s treatment of her, and the left blogosphere’s repeated attempts to slime her – including one sick blogger’s obsession over the birth of her son Trig – I can’t say I blame her.
In general, the book was better than expected. It’s difficult to disregard the fact that it was ghostwritten, though Palin’s voice clearly comes through in much of her autobiography. Certain critics have lamented the fact that she does not display a greater deal of policy understanding, but this book is not meant to be a sequel to Reflections on the Revolution in France. It’s an autobiography, not a political treatise. Honestly, it is an attempt to humanize her in light of the mass media’s treatment of her.
So was she successful in that effort? Admittedly I am pre-disposed to liking her, but I’m also not a blind Palin partisan. In terms of presidential politics, though she’s clearly better than most of the other mainstream candidates like Huckabee and Romney, she is not necessarily my first choice. She is not nearly as dumb or ignorant as both her left- and right-wing opponents make her out to be, but I have questioned whether she’s really fit to be the leader of the free world. After reading her book, those doubts have been softened.
She’s not as revealing as you’d like her to be, and there are aspects of the book that are vague and hurried. She seems to rush through various parts of her life, and yet she lingers on seemingly banal bits of trivia about people who have visited her state and other random bits of information. Yet her obvious love of Alaska shines through in an endearing and charming sort of way. And when she spends more than a brief paragraph on a certain point of her life, she does reveal more about her personality. Her description of her miscarriage, as well as her recounting of finding out that she was pregnant with Trig, and then finding out that he was going to be developmentally disabled, and the aftermath of finding out and going through all the concerns and fears she had, followed by the acceptance and embracing of what was to come – all of that was touching but not overly sentimental. In fact, I think the book could have used a bit more of those moments of self-reflection.
There are a couple of things the book did for me to improve my view of Sarah Palin. Her personal religious devotion is made manifest throughout. Despite my own religious beliefs, I sometimes get a little skittish when political figures talk religion because it can sound disingenuous. I wonder how much of what they are saying comes from a desire merely to impress the base. But in Palin’s case it seemed to me anyway that she was incredibly sincere, and she draws on her faith in a positive way.
She also eased some of my concerns about her populist rhetoric. When political figures start droning on about “the people,” I naturally recoil. Not necessarily because political leaders should ignore the will of the people – nor should they be slaves to the popular will – but because, again, it normally sounds completely disingenuous. I roll my eyes when politicians describe themselves as outsiders or mavericks, especially those who have been involved in the political world for several decades. One of my particular pet peeves is the way that so-called independents or “independent-minded” thinkers always like to remind everyone on a seemingly constant basis that they are independent-minded thinkers. They act like they expect a treat or pat on the belly for their “ferocious” independence of thought, as though everyone else on planet Earth but them is a sheep.
Sarah Palin has a bit of that – look at the title of the dang book. I sometimes cringe when she delves into that “aw shucks, I’m just a regular gal” talk. But as the saying goes, “show, don’t tell,” and Palin indeed does show. Her accounts of the insider machinations of Alaskans politics are not easy on the blood pressure, and when you stop to consider that she’s talking about Alaska, you realize how much it is in larger states and especially the federal government. Of course not everything she says should be taken at face value, but her description of what she dealt with against the Establishment is eye popping.
I did say that this book is not a political treatise, but in her final chapter she delves a little deeper into her political philosophy. While much of this contains a lot of vague generalities and populist talk about “commonsense” conservatism,” it does contain the clearest and best description of conservatism that I have ever heard a political figure – or just about any writer for that matter – express since Ronald Reagan. This was the highlight of the book, and the part of it that convinced me that she should be the leader of the new conservative revolution.
She answers the question, “what does it mean to be a Commonsense Conservative?” Her answer is simply magnificent (emphasis below is mine).
At its most basic level, conservatism is a respect for history and tradition, including traditional moral principles. I do not believe I am more moral, certainly no better, than anyone else, and conservatives who act “holier than thou” turn my stomach. So do some elite liberals. But I do believe in a few timeless and unchanging truths, and chief among those is that man is fallen. The world is not perfect, and politicians will never make it so. This, above all, is what informs my pragmatic approach to politics.
Yes yes yes yes! In a couple of sentences she has completely captured the essence of conservatism. It’s not just about tax cuts (though an important manifestation of conservative principles) or opposition to spending. It’s about appreciation for tradition, and for the fallen nature of mankind and the inability of us mere mortals to create paradise on Earth through government intervention. Bless her heart she’s got it.
Later she adds that she’s a conservative “because I deal with the world as it is – complicated and beautiful, tragic and hopeful.” Then, as if she were writing this just to impress me, she discusses Thomas Sowell’s dichotomy in A Conflict of Visions between those who have a constrained vision and an unconstrained vision. I have blogged about this before, but Sowell’s book is one of the most perceptive and insightful works of political theory ever written, and if Sarah Palin has actually read it, then I think I love her. Even if she has not, and she’s only picked up the theme elsewhere, I praise her for citing Sowell here because it he nails the fundamental difference between the right and the left.
As Palin goes on to explain, it all comes down to our understanding of human nature. Conservatives believe it is flawed and not perfectible, and therefore trying to achieve utopia is folly. Leftists also believe that man is flawed, but believe that humanity can be perfected. I know some will argue that the preamble of the Constitution contains the phrase “a more perfect Union,” but the Framers are talking about creating a better form of government than what came before, not about altering human nature.
Palin then adds:
We don’t trust utopian promises from politicians. The role of government is not to perfect us but to protect us – to protect our inalienable rights. The role of government is to protect the individual and to establish a social contract so that we can live together in peace.
Once again, Sarah Palin has perfectly captured the essence of conservatism. Even if the rest of the chapter is a little short on specifics, that she has gotten this much elevates her beyond so many others.
Having said all that, I return to my concern about possible small-mindedness. She admits that she basically blew the Couric interview, confessing that she became upset about the questions Couric was asking and the tone that the interviewer struck, and so she let that annoyance show in her responses to some of the questions, especially when Couric asked her what newspapers she read. Palin deserves some credit for recognizing her own foibles, but it’s worrisome that she would have let perceived mistreatment alter her demeanor so much, especially during such a critical moment of the campaign. And while I am willing to cut her some slack based on the way she has been treated by the media, at certain junctures I thought that perhaps she was being a tad whiny about everything. Not much, but enough to worry that she might be a just a little thin-skinned. Then again, maybe I’m just looking for things to be critical about.
So is this a good book? Is it worth your time? Yes. You don’t exactly learn everything you may want to know about Sarah Palin, but it’s an interesting look at her time as a public servant. No, she does not lay out a 50-point, detailed plan for Republican revival, but again, this is not what the book is about. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it very much, and I do have a deeper respect for her as a result of it.