Going Rogue: An American Life

Sarah Palin speaks out.

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Very early in Going Rogue: An American Life, Sarah Palin’s memoir, the reader learns that she has had “a drive to help, an interest in government and current events since I was a little kid” and that in grade school she was fond of the Pledge of Allegiance. Ronald Reagan, one of her heroes, makes his first of numerous cameos on Page 3. Palin reveals that she was something of a bookworm growing up, and she even names several publications that she read regularly. 

Further along in Chapter 1, Palin recounts an incident, a quasi-epiphany, when the heavy hand of government first revealed itself to her, as she and her brother were pulled over by an Alaska State Trooper for driving a snowmobile on a public road: “A couple of kids on a snowmachine up against a big dude with a gun and a badge. I couldn’t help wondering about his priorities, if he really didn’t have more important things to do, like catching a bad guy, or maybe helping a poor old lady haul in her firewood for the night. Looking back, maybe that was my first brush with the skewed priorities of government.”

Perhaps as telling as what Palin asserts in her memoir – and she asserts many things, quite frequently throughout, often with few if any supporting details – is what is not mentioned until the second page of the “Acknowledgments”: “Thanks as well to Lynn Vincent for her indispensable help in getting the words on paper.” Vincent has been described officially as Palin’s “collaborator” and unofficially as a coauthor, but she doesn’t rate more than this vague description that could apply to a stenographer. It’s an odd decision by the author, who bills herself as “an everyday American” who is not driven toward “power or fame or wealth.” She is all about other people, family, friends, public service, what’s good for Alaska and America.

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Indeed, she resigned as governor a year before her term was up for the sake of Alaska, which, she writes, was beset by politically motivated and frivolous Freedom of Information requests and ethics complaints that were costing both her and the state time and money: “Financial hardship is painful but bearable. Loss of reputation I can take. But I could not and cannot tolerate watching Alaska suffer.” She would carry on the fight outside of government.

Earlier in her career, she made a very similar decision, to resign as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a regulatory body, because she didn’t feel she was getting the necessary support from her superiors on ethics issues and because she was under a gag order: “I knew what I had to do, so I resigned – stepping away from the ethical lapses and hierarchical blinders to effect change where I could – on the outside.”

The assertions keep coming. Despite all her reading, she writes: “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned on the basketball court.” Of her hero, she opines, “Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot.” Some American servicemen who defended their country from 1945 to 1989 might take exception to that statement. When she has vegans over to dinner, she tosses a salad and lectures them gently, “If God had not intended us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?” This, of course, serves equally well as an argument for cannibalism. “If tea parties had been in vogue back then, I would have thrown the first one...” is a phrase worthy of a certain Hall of Fame catcher.

Yogi-isms aside, at times the facts clearly get the better of the author. For example, when she is being quizzed by Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s senior campaign strategist, about her knowledge of the Middle East, she writes: “He wanted to know whether I understood the origin of the conflict, the history of the Middle East, and how thirteenth- and fourteenth-century differences had evolved into today’s murderous rivalry between the Sunni and Shia [Muslims].” The bloodletting began in the 7th century.

What is most surprising about Palin’s account of the 2008 presidential campaign is how infrequently she went “rogue,” and how dutifully she did what she was told, said what was written for her, and wore the clothes that were purchased for her. We know she didn’t like it because she describes what she was thinking while she was following orders. If this were a novel, suspense would be building for the great moment when she would confront John McCain, for whom she has nothing but praise: “John, call off the dogs; I gotta be me. I can help you win this thing.” The moment never comes.

For a person who has served on regulatory boards and in various government positions since 1992, Palin is not fond of regulations or government. In fact, she asserts that the recent financial crisis was not caused by Wall Street, but by government “meddling.” Then, on the next page, she seems to temper that statement by quoting another of her heroes, Margaret Thatcher, who described capitalism as being beset periodically by “gales of creative destruction.” Thatcher continued, “To lament these things is ultimately to lament the bracing blast of freedom itself.”

If Palin were president, it is clear that she would let the financial north winds blow and blow until they blew themselves out, all in the name of helping.

David Holahan is a freelance writer in East Haddam, Conn.

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