Book Review

A shortsighted memoir from Palin

(Harper Collins)
By Claude R. Marx
November 27, 2009

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Sarah the victim.

After she experienced a meteoric rise to the heights of American politics, one might have expected Sarah Palin to produce an optimistic memoir that was enjoyable to read and somewhat forward looking.

Not quite.

Much of “Going Rogue: An American Life’’ is devoted to settling scores and trying to convince readers that if more people had listened to her, the Republicans might have fared better in the 2008 election. After reading it, one doubts that she will change many minds about last year’s outcome, or, for that matter, convince more people that she is presidential timber.

Even if one agrees with her premise that Team McCain was dealt a poor hand last year and made things worse by infighting and poor decision-making, it’s not at all clear that if they had followed Palin’s advice, the outcome would have been different. Given her poor grasp of many issues and her tendency to make verbal gaffes, it’s not surprising that John McCain’s staff members kept her on a short leash.

If anything, reading this memoir will cause more readers to ask: What was McCain thinking? One is bemused when she writes that she wasn’t surprised that McCain picked her because “it seemed . . . like a natural progression. I’d known it was only a matter of time before others saw Alaska’s potential to contribute to America’s future. Now the time was right.’’

During Palin’s rise to the top of Alaska politics, she demonstrated an optimistic and folksy demeanor that served her well in a state that has often rewarded mavericks. While readers get glimpses of her sunny side, it’s often eclipsed by her need to give verbal payback to Alaskan and national politicians who crossed her or didn’t take her seriously enough. Also, while her press coverage wasn’t always what she might have liked, it goes with the territory of playing in the political big leagues, and it would have been more helpful to her image if she had accepted it, rather than whine about it excessively. Though her media-bashing may play well among the conservative base, it might not be the best approach for snagging centrist voters who tend to be the people whose votes decide presidential elections.

Ironically, she plays the victim card far more often than McCain ever does. Despite the five years of hell he experienced while a POW and his clashes with other Republicans, McCain seems less mad at the world than does his former running mate.

Palin also doesn’t help herself by having produced such a poorly written book. The narrative rambles, and there isn’t much self-reflection. One is reminded of Truman Capote’s comment about the works of Jack Kerouac: “This isn’t writing, it’s typing.’’ In addition, she should have looked ahead and devoted additional space to outlining her worldview.

Those flaws are unfortunate given that one comes away from this book impressed by her political acumen, emotional intelligence, and her knowledge of energy issues. Her innate ability to connect with people and lack of pretension are reminiscent of the skill set that Ronald Reagan possessed. Palin, however, lacks the high-level political experience and comfort level with complex national and international issues that the Gipper had when he ran for president.

Palin has a way to go before she is likely to be perceived as having that kind of stature. It is not at all clear how “Going Rogue: An American Life’’ will help her get there.

Claude R. Marx is a journalist who has written extensively on history and politics.

GOING ROGUE: An American Life By Sarah Palin

Harper, 413 pp., illustrated, $28.99

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