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Book Review: Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin

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You know the instant fame brought to a woman from Wasilla— Sarah Palin — when John McCain chose her as running mate (Sept. 2008). Since that fateful day, barely a year out, she has penned a standard 413-page memoir (sans index).  

After the election she thought that the former running team McCain-Palin would return to business as usual and remain content in elected offices. McCain did return to Washington and the senate. Sarah returned to Wasilla and Anchorage, Alaska. Then on July 3, 2009 she resigned from her job as governor of Alaska at a press conference, to the surprise of the political world.Going Rogue is the fruit of her decision. 

Sarah grew up comfortable and middle class in Alaska, her father a science teacher and track coach. Her family sat around a dinner table ala the Kennedy kids discussing science instead of politics. But her dad and siblings are not the source of her luck.

The source of her luck arrives every time she seizes the day and rolls like the perfect opportunist when doors open that she did not open. That is the beauty and the guile of Sarah Palin, who would size up a situation then jump in head first to fix it. However, the script of her book tells another story. Sarah was incredibly lucky. As VP pick she was surrounded with handlers who dubbed her actions and motivations on the stump as “going rogue.”  As VP pick she quickly became the talk of the water cooler. Staffers were covertly “irked” about Sarah’s off-script moments. She was always “going rogue,” hence the title of her book.

Some critics have argued that her life was anything but “American” because she spent precious little time living in the lower 48. She was unable to complete college in Hawaii and settled on North Idaho College and a degree in journalism because that state reminded her of home and Hawaii was, well Hawaii and simply too perfect a setting for serious college work.

In Chapter 1: “The Last Frontier” (all about Alaska), Sarah is a life-long jogger who watches her diet and keeps fit by jogging every day. Adoration of all things Alaskan and the great outdoors encouraged running and fishing — a family influence.Todd, raised by a mother who was Yupik Indian, only increased her attraction for him and his multi-cultural and racial heritage. 

On the stump his native roots were used by Sarah to bolster her comfortableness with “ethnic diversity” because, well, she has diversity within her own family. Married to a man about one-fourth Yupik Indian despite his blue eyes and Anglo good looks made the Palin’s diverse. If this scenario makes you squirm.

Then you know that this question would not poll well. I mean how many would think of Palin as a big friend to blacks or other minorities? No that meme, for some reason, did not catch fire within the rank and file independents, and moderate Democrats who might have voted McCain. Instead her own associations came into question and the people that she and multi-cultural Todd “palled around with.”

Chapter 2: Kitchen-Table politics (all about the newbie politico) contained another mundane reality for Sarah — resignation as chairman of an energy committee, AOGCC. Sarah tries to talk honestly about “Troopergate” or “Tasergate”.  It does not work. Andy Halcro, an old family friend, set up a small town blog that became an authority on this misdirected investigation and firing. Sarah’s spin: “Halcro’s false report would ultimately blossom into the scandal known as Troopergate.” She said that it should have been called Tasergate because that jibed with the facts of the case more. Her former brother-in-law Wooten’s character was called into question. Sarah employed the same tactics to make her case that she railed against in the media.

Chapter 3: Drill, Baby, Drill (Sarah’s campaign to become Alaskan governor): Sarah recharges her life by going from the chair to the stomp. On page 111 “Our campaign would focus on cleaning house in government…ramping up production of America’s energy supplies and building the 3,000-mile, $40 billion natural gas pipeline…”  This project had been authorized in 1979 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Sarah wanted to capitalize and create huge profits from natural gas for Alaska by bringing Alaskan gas and oil to market in the lower 48. Good goal, bad start.

She also wanted to clean house and kick some moose ass. Those in power did not cotton to her ambitious vision. They warned her to clean house somewhere else. Sarah waxed cautiously with Willow that [she] “worried about even a whiff of impropriety.” And recounts how she spent hours and days combing through a multi-billion dollar Alaskan state budget to get it right and to find out who put what in where.

Chapter 4: “Going Rogue” (All about the Steve Schmidt): Why was this chapter really full of Schmidt? Sarah should have concentrated on her contribution to the McCain Campaign and this chapter most certainly should have been about same. But no it was all about Steve “The bullet” Schmidt. He’s a tough guy who managed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign. Clearly this big guy got under Sarah’s’ skin in a big way. She spent no less than six pages pillorying Steve. One example exploited his tactics: Steve targeted John Kerry for some reason and “He told one staffer, “We’re going to ram ‘global test’ right up John Kerry’s ass.” John Kerry, during the 2004 campaign against George W. Bush, said that America first needs to pass a ‘global test’ before it could act militarily.  Schmidt’s sting was not wasted on Kerry. He did not want Sarah Palin, period.

The real problem with the Palin pick was that she was literally picked out of a hat. When one uber strange candidate fell through, Joe Lieberman, everyone wondered why, a woman from Wasilla got the nod. Sarah’s name was hoisted up like a white flag of conservative surrender.

Many wondered why Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was not the obvious choice then. (And now a recent poll  finds Crist in a tightening race for U.S. senate nomination with Marco Rubio.) It became obvious to observers that gay activists researched rumors that Charlie Crist was in the closet, gay and blocking gay-friendly legislation. Crist “fixed” that and showed up at the McCain ranch with a ‘date,’ Miss Rome. They married a few months later.

Going Rogue accomplishes many goals in its six chapters and over 400 pages. It rescues Sarah from the frustration of revisionist history.  We know too much. She must depict the steep learning curve climbed from local council seat to almost vice-presidential seat in the White House. Sarah speaks of her own vetting. And instead of speculating why other candidates would have been better, stronger than her; she was at a loss for words.

She and her ghostwriter Lynn Vincent had nothing to say about why Sarah was chosen. There are lots of things to like about Sarah, don’t get her wrong. She was frugal to a fault; she did not want the fuss and the micro management over diet, dress and demeanor. This made her a real woman, a real person and that often rings true. I could tolerate her VP oversell but the lack of truth was deafening when she paints herself as an RN, what I call a “registered nerd.” Sarah skips the soul search altogether and replaces the song “Why was I chosen?” with “God’s will for me.”

Sarah spends pages trying to convince readers that she grew up holding and reading books.  She called herself a “nerd” many times and said she read everything — books and magazines. But nobody asked the right questions on her voluminous reading. That right person included one Katie Couric. Thanks to those revealing interviews we were left unconvinced along with Katie. This was Sarah’s failed attempt to revise history.  People may buy her book but they don’t buy her arguments or her evidence that she was the perfect default candidate.

Sarah does discuss the Katie interviews. She rightly blames herself for much of went wrong. She also blames the media and the editors who only show her warts and those awkward answers to anything about everything. Sarah’s retake: Katie did not ask the right questions and the best of Sarah was left on the cutting floor. Candidate Palin was fooled by a female staffer (who used to work for Katie) into thinking that Katie liked her, admired her and would be kind and gentle with her. Sarah got over this ego trauma and blamed herself for letting Katie get under her skin—lesson learned—for now. She was also mad at herself for single-handedly resurrecting Couric’s low television ratings.

During the high stakes stomp Sarah steels herself against liberal media attacks and her lack of support by sending out a secret SOS. She did so by calling: Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Bill O’Reilly to name a few. Her formula: to engage some conservative bulwarks for advice, clout and comfort. Many of them did not want McCain (at first) but did want Sarah with her strong conservative direction, crowd-pleasing ways and folksy style.

The candidate often wore rose-colored glasses. She hoped in vain that candidate children off limits in her case during campaign just as Barack and Michelle Obama’s children were off limits to the media. The press respected familial privacy up to a point. Only Sarah and family got the tipping point with two huge children tales. One true and one manufactured — both effective. Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy out of wedlock announced on TV, and that Trig was not Sarah’s baby but Bristol’s. These two events made Sarah livid and realized that the press did not get it. Kid-speak was taboo in her mind but the MSM did not get the same memo.

Chapter 5:  “The Thumpin’” (crying over checkmate) must have been a difficult one for Sarah and her ghostwriter to pen. Here she would let it all hang out. She thought like many others that after the loss (she had to pay for vetting because they lost) that John and Sarah would return to life as usual. She was wrong.  John did return to the senate and to the death of his dear friend Sen. Ted Kennedy, but Sarah had other plans. Or rather an unplanned resignation from her governor’s job in Alaska at a press conference. The public is still scratching its collective head as to the reason why.

She does not write about the real reasons. No other reason makes sense to me, other than her need to rebuild the family finances. She needed to make money to bring her family back from the brink of poverty due to the losing campaign, quitting her job, and the ongoing investigations in Alaska for impropriety of one sort or another.

Enter California: Sarah Palin had no idea that in 2009 she would find herself in a small apartment in San Diego where she would give what I call “virgin berth” to Going Rogue. Sarah found herself alone, an out-of-job politico pregnant with debt who joined forces with a capable midwife (Sarah Vincent) to push out a publishing coup in penning a 400+ page book in only a few weeks — amazing. 

Chapter 6: “The Way Forward” (Sarah gets gritty): Sarah finds her voice and gives populist purpose to all things conservative. She writes: “Commonsense Conservatives deal with human nature as it is — with its unavoidable weaknesses and its potential for goodness. We see the world as it is — imperfect but filled with beauty.”

Will Sarah make conservatism cool again? She is taking bets on it and making money hand over fist.

Ten things I like about Sarah — after reading her book — (in no particular order)

1)      She’s an exercise buff who’s in great physical shape. She jogs every day.  And often itched to run on the road in sunshine instead of stuck in some meeting.

2)      Sarah’s humble and not stuck in her shortcomings.

3)      I love how she doesn’t get that people right, left and center are not buying her self-definition as “nerd” and “brainiac,” yet continues to tout it.

4)      She is self-confident to a fault.

5)      Going Rogue was well written and only occasionally patronizing.

6)      She’s gets the need for ethics reform in politics, and is deeply religious but not spiritual.

7)      Gets the self-definition job of a politician and the art of reinvention (now a Fox contributor).

8)      She’s a born politico not a born president.

9)      She’s making a lot of money with insider political gossip.

10)   She never bashes gays, Republican closet types or pro choice-mongers (in her book anyway).

Finally, the gestalt (pattern) of Going Rogue is clear. Palin pathology is in evidence. She is a woman doing rather than a woman being, and this leads to imbalance in the form of taking on too many responsibilities at once. On the other hand, there is balance in her life Her human side shines through in the strong relationships of her life and these are the labels she wears well: wife, mother, daughter and sister. I predict that this memoir will become Palin’s overture to a run in 2012. If not, you can tie up your running shoes that it will be mined for that season just the same.

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About Heloise

  • Thoughts on Sarah Palin and the United States of America

    Sarah strikes me as an empty headed prop who won a popularity contest at a small high school gymnasium by intimidating the other girls and romancing the administration. It looks like she bites the hand that feeds her as she turned on McCain the first chance she got – which was immediately.

    That’s the kind of class and dignity we are looking for in a President (?) – Sorry Palin worshipers she may be a sociopath.

    The President of the United States is a very serious job. Our spin doctors and campaign managers have turned it into a high school popularity contest, but in reality the stakes are much higher.

    You can not govern by slogan. Look at the damage done by deregulating Wall Street. That move was promoted and championed because of two words “free market”. Nice concept but in the intricate world of market economies a complete fallacy. You can not govern by cute little slogans. “Trickle Down” has lead to the unconscionable concentration of wealth in 1% of the population through subsidies and give aways of our tax dollars to the corporate insiders who place their people in our government.

    Granted its a costly game of brinkmanship, sloganeering and manipulation to get the population to vote one way or the other, but at the end of the day to the extent we relinquish control and fall prey to easy answers big corporate america runs the show.

    And corporatist and corporate america are unqualified to govern the country because their focus is too singular on their particular profit margins. Great focus for a successful business but absolutely wrong and a severe lack of vision for guiding this huge country over the realities of our collective landscape.

    The fruit of their electioneering of politics has created an us against them mentality among the citizens in our Country. And it has created an artificial out of touch ruling class that cares only for the acquisition of personal wealth. The reality is that we are all in this together. And if we don’t make room for one another there will be trouble no matter how right one group thinks they are over another.

    That is hardly the Country we all want or aspire to and not the vision of the United States we all desire to see unfold. In short we are better than that.

    While Sarah might be a fascinating soap opera of a character, fun to loath or root for she is only qualified for a People Magazine Cover in the same respect of a Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan – what will she do/say next escapade.

    All of these new media celebrities are the same version of the same m.o. – say or do something shocking to get the world of rubber neckers gawking just like the well worn metaphor of a car wreck.

    Whether Glenn Beck is crying or predicting something ludicrous or Rush is flame throwing and lambasting something even he doesn’t believe, or some new media celeb is releasing a sex tape – its all shock value in the mode and method Howard Stern used to get famous and rich.

    That may be one way to achieve a personal goal of wealth and fame but that personality trait is absolutely the worst trait to reward in our politicians.

    Good governance requires good citizenship an understanding of how our Country works as a Nation of laws, the intricacies of the market place and in getting along with other people who may not share your same views, culture, beliefs and habits. It requires a true patriotism not in name alone but a commitment to actually put the Country and the people first over individual gain, profit and popularity.

    Forcing ones self and opinion down another’s throat doesn’t win you many friends. No matter how right you think you are its counter productive and tone deaf.

    Creating a nation and world where we are “free to be” as long as we don’t hurt each other and live sustainably side by side is the goal. Jumping up and down screaming my way or the highway leads to bloodshed.

    I would put forth that if you aren’t living by these two rules of thumb “live and let live” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – it is you no matter what bible you are carrying or what uniform you are wearing that is doing the wrong thing.

    That’s Pollyanna thinking for the Alpha Dogs like Palin but in actuality the alpha dogs are the ones who are clueless when it comes to anything other than their own selfish- self interest.

    That kind of self absorbed me first focus might be good for ones bottom line but it’s one helluva lousy way to “govern” a Country.

    North Korea goes rogue not the President of the United States.

    Paul Burke
    Author-Journey Home

  • Ruvy


    I haven’t read Sarah Palin’s memoirs and don’t really intend to unless it becomes absolutely necessary (like she’s coming to Ma’ale Levona to talk to me – sure, you betcha!), so I can’t comment on how well you wrote the review. I can comment on the comment above mine, though.

    From what I have learned, Palin didn’t govern Alaska by slogan, and it came out later (not in her book) that the continuous lawsuits against her as governor cost her the seat. The comment above by Paul Burke would be better directed against the sitting president – who did turn the 2008 presidential contest into a high school popularity race, and who does govern by slogan. Sometimes reality just doesn’t jive with slogans or ideology. And if the American economy does not improve, and it does not look likely that it will soon, this lesson will be driven home to the sitting president of the United States with a sledge-hammer.