Author: Sarah Palin

HarperCollins, 2009

Filed Under: Nonfiction, Memoirs

This book was very tough to review. I have to be honest, I’ve started this review several times, and each time—after indulging fitful rants and political diatribes—I’ve had to delete the incoherent blather from my computer’s memory. It’s embarrassing, really, some of the emotions this book has elicited from me. I used to think I stood closer to the center of the political spectrum than to either of its poles. I used to badmouth elitists, and I used to believe that all of their derisive commoner-hating was just a mirror image of the populist movement that made Going Rogue possible. Yes, I used to believe that liberal elitists were just as bad for our collective progress as, say, the Tea Partiers. Then I saw some of the things I wrote, some of the hateful, bilious criticism of both Sarah Palin and her followers, and I realized that I sound like (gasp) an elitist asshole.

Has there ever been a more polarizing political figure than Sarah Palin? Not only do we all have an opinion of her, we all have a very strong opinion. She’s either the best thing to happen to this country, or the worst. So how, then, does one go about reviewing her book—a book that will only further calcify one’s strong opinion of its author?

Going Rogue is shit. It sucks. It is both literarily and politically a steaming pile of moose excrement.

That’s the main thing I want to say about it—that’s really all I can say about it before I start to get mean, almost violent. And then, well, and then I have to delete this review and start over. If I continue on that tangent, we’ll have a bunch of Fox News loyalists accusing C4 of being a biased, left-wing media outlet. Now we would never claim not to have bias; in fact, if you peruse the site for a few minutes, you’ll see that we are a highly biased bunch of motherfuckers. However, our bias is not political, but literary.

For the sake of this review (I’ve already gotten so much further than the last attempt) let’s practice a bit of transparency. I hold both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree from private, east coast colleges. Although I mostly drink beer, I enjoy an occasional Manhattan or glass of Pinot Noir. I own a tailored suit. Last week, I went to the symphony. I am a registered Massachusetts Democrat. Even though I believed Scott Brown was the more qualified and more deserving Senatorial candidate, I voted for Martha Coakley solely because of Brown’s stance on health care (it was close though, didn’t make the decision until I was actually standing in the booth). And, if you can’t tell by this point, I’m not a fan a Sarah Palin. That more than likely affects my opinion of Going Rogue, and I want you to know that up front.

On the other hand, I spent money on Going Rogue, faced public shame by purchasing it in a downtown Boston bookstore. Though I struggled, I read it all, even the acknowledgments. I took on this herculean trial mostly because I was curious, but also partly because I wanted to believe it wasn’t possible for me to dislike a public figure so much. The amount of dislike I have for Sarah Palin cannot be healthy, and a small part of me wanted to dislike her much less (I wouldn’t go as far as saying I wanted to like her). I wanted to see the real Sarah Palin, the one that so many people love. I wanted her to convince me that maybe she isn’t the political version of the antichrist.

Unfortunately for me, or for anyone else who read this book for the reasons I did, there is no attempt at convincing in Going Rogue, not even so much as a feigned interest in convincing. There were no surprises in this book, nothing that you couldn’t piece together from her campaign sound bites, and her post campaign interviews, and her post gubernatorial YouTube clips, and her recent Fox News commentary. I wasn’t expecting her to confess that she smoked ice with Agassi, but I did expect her to be a bit more candid, a bit more human, one who makes mistakes and has faults.

None of that in Going Rogue, just the same straight shootin’, finger pointin’, mavericky maverickin’, maverick politician we’ve come to either love or hate[i]. And why would she want to become anything different? She’s already branded herself quite well: the common, hardworking American who cares about common, hardworking Americans. She’s a Main-Streeter willing to take on both Wall Street fat cats and politics-as-usual politicians. Going Rogue never strays too far from that description of Sarah Palin, and for some reason, it’s working on a large portion of the voting public.

You know her because she’s just like us, and her life is just like ours. You know her because we all live in the great northern wilderness, where a snowmobile is just as good as a pickup, and winter nights last forever. You know her because we all married our high school sweethearts in a courtroom without telling our parents because, no big deal. You know her because we all have spouses who work thousands of miles from home, spouses who spend months away earning a living and then come home and ride snowmobiles over the far horizon. You know her because we all had a clan of children, and in a show of that true Alaska independent spirit named them after things like airplanes and sporting events and the hometown of ESPN. She’s just like us.

Did you catch the sarcasm? I know; it was a little thick. But don’t let the snarky attitude of the last paragraph subtract from its point: Sarah Palin’s life has been far from common. And that is okay. In fact, it’s the best part of the book. I know very little about life in Alaska, but I imagine it is very different from life in the rest of this country. I loved reading White Fang and Call of the Wild because the world in which they are set is so different from my own. Honestly, governing that state must take a special person. I’m not being a jackass; I mean that. A book about growing up in, and becoming the governor of, Alaska could be damn good. Unfortunately, Sarah Palin undercuts all of those interesting parts by trying to position herself politically as just another ordinary commoner.

Undercutting is actually a major trend throughout Going Rogue. Palin undercuts a police officer for stopping her and her brother as they rode snowmobiles down a road. She says the officer was harassing them and that he was a perfect example of wasted taxpayer dollars. There is no mention of whether Palin was breaking the law, or if the officer was simply doing his job. I’ve been pulled over by cops before. I’m not dumb enough to blame it on them.

Palin undercuts a few of her critics by lampooning their jobs. One she mocks for being a limousine driver, and the other for selling falafel on the street. I’m not sure how you can champion hard work and then mock someone else’s occupation for petty reasons.

Sometimes she uses language to backhand the other side of the aisle. If her supporters are “good patriots,” what does that make those who don’t support her? If her policies are “common sense politics,” what does that make those who disagree?

And sometimes, Sarah Palin undercuts herself. Of the media she writes, “Perhaps national press outlets just don’t have the resources any more to devote to fair and balanced coverage… the time has come to acknowledge that it is counterfeit objectivity the liberal media try to sell consumers.”If it weren’t for the term “liberal media,” I’d say she had a valid point, but because she threw the word liberal in there, I can see where she’s going. She continues, “Thank God there are still a few credible broadcasters on cable news plus informative talk radio, common sense blogs and some fine fact-based print publications.”

In case you were wondering, in her acknowledgments she thanks some of the following “fair and balanced” media personalities: Ann, Bill(s), Glenn, Greta, Rush, and Sean among others. Clearly, there is no “counterfeit objectivity” in that group.

Reading Sarah Palin’s defense of her poor performance in the Katie Couric interviews is a bit uncomfortable, like watching an injured, cornered animal trying to squirm its way to safety. Palin’s defense boils down to claiming Couric was out to get her. In a response to botching the “what publications do you read?” question, Palin wonders whether Katie Couric happened to read Palin’s Op Ed in the Times. There is no mention of the Bush doctrine.

Of the individuals who eventually filed a string of ethics charges against her, Palin writes, “you are going to believe unsubstantiated rumors and then report them to other people? It would be a few years before I learned that some people make a living and earn prestigious awards for doing that.” I wonder, when she wrote those sentences, if she thought about the time she started the “Death Panel” rumor that created a massive amount of unwarranted fear and sparked a string of pointless town hall meetings.

Death Panels and the Bush Doctrine question are just two of the omissions I found glaring. There is no mention of the Ted Stevens scandal. The bridge to nowhere is mentioned only once—jokingly and in passing, as if it were something liberals cooked up to give her trouble. I wasn’t looking for a smoking gun, but I did expect her to be more candid about these issues, or at least to acknowledge that they happened. (Then again, if Katie Couric asked me which publications I read, and I answered “all of ‘em,” and that was one of my better answers, I’d probably want to pretend the other stuff didn’t happen, too.)

But let’s again practice a bit of transparency. Because I don’t like Sarah Palin, I was probably most likely looking for a way to knock her down. Take for instance her language score. I gave her a three because, well because it reads exactly like she sounds. I guess if I liked Sarah Palin, I’d probably employ the literary term “voice” and give her a higher score. However, I’m not going to do that. Doing so would pain me. I mean how the hell could I ever be lenient to someone who, in all seriousness, wrote of 9-11, “The terrorist had struck at our military and financial center, and had meant to hit another seat of power in Washington. Officials thought the Trans-Alaska Pipeline could be on the list of possible targets”? Really? Are you kidding me? How long would that fucking list have to be? Who are these officials? What is their blog URL? How am I supposed to take you seriously?

Whoa, deep breath.

I need to say nice things:

All evidence shows that Sarah Palin is an excellent mother, and especially Bristol, in her single motherhood, is lucky to have her.

That cliché about the road to Hell aside, Sarah Palin seems to be genuinely well intentioned, and seems to want the best for her state and her country.

She was candid about her fears and doubts when she learned Trig had Downs Syndrome. She comes across as a real and genuine person when she writes about that moment. I respected that.

She is a shrewd politician. She knows how to talk and relate to droves of people. I may not be one of them, but she has convinced millions of people to believe in her.

That last part scares me most.

[i] To be fair, Mrs. Palin actually doesn’t use the word “maverick” all that often in Going Rogue. Not sure if the buzzword’s absence was the work of ghostwriter Lynn Vincent or of Mrs. Palin herself. When I started reading, I was borderline giddy wondering which nouns would earn maverick-as-adjective status. Maverick politicking? Maverick legislative veto? Maverick resignation? Maverick moose chili recipe? I was disappointed. However, Mrs. Palin uses “Alaska” as an adjective quite often. I’m okay with “Alaska salmon” and “Alaska Airlines,” but did she need to write things like “Alaska spirit” and “Alaska work ethic?” Is Alaska work ethic different from the work ethic in any other state? Shouldn’t it be “Alaskan”? Am I being too elitist?