This spring, Matthew Continetti wrote a book called The Persecution of Sarah Palin, and I am inclined to think that if that title had not been taken, Palin should have used it instead of Going Rogue. The recently-resigned Governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee’s book is nothing if not a catalog of petty feuds and settled scores.
There’s something to be said for telling your side, but did she really need to repeatedly berate Andrèe McLeod as “the falafel lady?” Did she need to describe an opponent as “a Birkenstock-and-granola Berkeley grad who wore her gray hair long and flowing with a white flower behind one ear?” Did she need to go out of her way to mock vegetarians? This is identity politics at its worst—demonizing one group for no reason other than for cheap approval from another.
Whenever Mrs. Palin has an opinion that she either cannot or does not want to defend, she resorts to ad hominem. Why had she “opposed homosexual marriage”? No justification is given, just that she had a gay college roommate and that Obama opposes it as well. Why is creationism valid? It was good enough for William F. Buckley, Jr.
You should skip this book, and just read this one passage; it has everything there is to know about* Going Rogue*: “some feel that Big Business is always opposed to the Little Guy. Some people seem to think a profit motive is inherently greedy and evil, and that what’s good for business is bad for people. (That’s what Karl Marx thought too.)”
Who actually believes that a profit motive is inherently evil? There are no serious American politicians who feel that way. Next up, the ad hominem—just because Karl Marx thinks something does not make it wrong. Marx also believed Voltaire was a good writer, but that doesn’t invalidate Candide’s worth.
Contradictions run throughout the book. While she extols the values of Big Business here, later on she talks excitedly about taking down Exxon, failing to mention how her laissez-faire philosophy might lead to the corporate irresponsibility she lambastes. At one point she talks enthusiastically of how the Iditarod champion did not know who she was, earlier she had carped about the lack of accountability in Juneau, seeing no possible contradiction between glorifying the former and deriding the latter. Her description of the pipeline is one using a free market approach, but adds that it has tariffs and that she opposed allowing a Chinese syndicate to bid on it. She loves Alaskans’ fierce independence and wishes government would let them be, yet mentions that her family never would have been there in the first place were it not for a government program designed to lure teachers up north.
Palin’s characters and stories are drawn two-dimensionally. One can immediately tell whether a character is a villain or a hero, a patriotic American or a New York stylist. Her recollections of the Iranian hostage crisis and the fall of the Soviet Union include no mention of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Shah, or Mikhail Gorbachev. This makes her stories more accessible, but evinces a lack of depth or consideration of ideas in conflict with her own.
What’s perhaps most striking about Going Rogue and Sarah Palin herself is the startling lack of self-awareness. All of her values prove negotiable when a different one results in a better outcome for her.
Mrs. Palin describes herself as a free marketer yet extols Title IX which, among other things, mandated equal athletic scholarships for men and women, in many cases creating more opportunities for women, but in others reducing them for men. That’s a defensible tradeoff, but hardly a free market solution. She repeatedly dismisses critics on nothing more than the grounds that they are liberals, with no regard for the fact that anyone could use that logic to dismiss her entire book. She criticizes the McCain campaign for treating her like a child and then says that campaign aide Nicolle Wallace’s claim that Katie Couric had low self-esteem and wanted Mrs. Palin to like her convinced her to do the interview. She also believed policy issues would not be discussed even though the interview was held in front of United Nations.
She hates the stimulus package, but loves the Individuals with Disabilities Act that received $12.2 billion from it. She speaks of her husband Todd’s DUI with grave solemnity, yet gushes about the potentially fatal danger of his snowmachine races. She quotes herself castigating Hillary Clinton for whining about media sexism, then goes on to claim she wasn’t criticizing Mrs. Clinton and makes the exact same accusation of sexism as Mrs. Clinton. It is difficult to act in a principled way, but Mrs. Palin has not made any effort.
Mrs. Palin feeds off of persecution from critics, and she has an unparalleled ability to provoke them. A story about her dad’s “softer side” that involves him offering her the eyeballs of a freshly killed moose is brilliantly designed to stoke outrage, and allow her to paint her detractors as squeamish coastal elites.
Mrs. Palin is at her most effective when she uses something, be it her family, Alaska, or her religion as a shield from criticism. The implicit assumption is that Mrs. Palin would be fine as the target of criticism, but how dare you imply that Mrs. Palin doesn’t read all the finest newspapers known to man? That’s an elitist attack on Alaska. How dare you imply that writing a letter to her family in the voice of the Heavenly Father is indicative of self-absorption? That is an insult to the Christian faith! Her claim that “I don’t like to hear people complain” leads me to hope for her sake that she never reads this book.
One score that is noticeably not settled is the one with Levi Johnston, the estranged father of Mrs. Palin’s only grandchild. Johnston has also stated that Mrs. Palin is smart not to attack him in the book because, “She knows what I got on her.”
This book is about what one would expect from Sarah Palin: score settling, mounting evidence of a persecution complex, intellectual vacuity, and an utter refusal to take criticism seriously. That she was allowed so close to the Presidency reflects terribly on John McCain. Luckily, his bet against the intelligence of the American people appears to have been a bad one; polls indicate her presence hurt the ticket.
Mrs. Palin does set aside all of 11 pages to describe what it means to be a Commonsense Conservative. To sum that section up, it means that man is imperfect, the role of government is “to protect the individual and establish a social contract so that we can live together in peace,” all government involvement in markets is bad, cap and trade is “an environmentalist Ponzi scheme,” we should use all sources of energy possible, we need to win the war on terror, “nations like Israel need to be confident of our support,” and we must defend the Constitution.
I understand this is a memoir and not a policy book, but what on earth has happened to conservatism that has moved it from Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative which laid out an articulate, coherent vision of his problems with expansive federal programs and was unafraid to violate Republican orthodoxy (“Mr. Conservative” was in favor of legalized abortion and gay rights) to this thoughtless parroting of Republican talking points?
Mrs. Palin, for all her claims of being a maverick, says that one of the causes for our country’s slide into a dark period was “the perception of environmental abuses,” and that the “impression” the Republican representatives made when their reaction to the financial crisis created “the perception” they had failed to respond. A truly independent thinker might believe that the American people’s “perceptions” were in fact more accurate than the Republican Party’s politicians’. Or she could argue that a conservative should be wary of responding to a crisis out of obligation to do something because that can sometimes serve to make it worse (an unlikely position for Palin, who supported the bailout).
“All I needed to hear was what John’s position was on any particular issue,” writes Palin about her ideal debate prep, “Then I could either formulate a response that would support it wholeheartedly or carefully articulate my own slightly different perspective.” This is not good enough. Knowing “the history of the conflict [between Sunni and Shia] to the extent that most Americans did,” is not good enough. Sarah Palin is neither smart nor industrious enough to hold national office. If working hard and learning the issues is the way to electoral success, then Mrs. Palin is not going rogue; she’s long gone.