If you are looking for a conversation starter, you might try carrying The Lies of Sarah Palin around with you. As I read it on the Metro this week, strangers took one look at the title and rolled their eyes; exhaled loudly through their nostrils; or offered a jab, like the man who said, “That’s only one volume?”
It seems that everyone has something to say about Palin, not least Geoffrey Dunn, an investigative reporter and Huffington Post contributor who has regurgitated the political bile of the last two election cycles in 400-plus pages of unsubstantial but toxic prose. “The Lies of Sarah Palin” is an extended ad hominem attack with little fresh information, analysis, or insight. Readers sympathetic to Palin will likely find that Dunn’s dismissive tone confirms the worst characterizations of left-leaning media. Readers not sympathetic to Palin may find that Dunn’s argument misses the mark. Many voters have real objections to Palin. That she waves like a beauty pageant contestant is not one of them.
The book’s central thesis is that Palin is ambitious and deceitful. The first accusation seems irrelevant. Unless we alter our political process so as to foist public office on resisting citizens as punishment, we must accept that our representatives will be ambitious. Let it go.
Dunn’s second point – that Palin habitually plays fast and loose with the truth – has more significant implications for a public official. Though, again – really? A politician fudged? This merits a book? Dunn’s argument is made particularly thin by the examples he provides. For instance, Palin allegedly told the McCain campaign that she expected “key Democrats in Alaska to champion her candidacy,” including Rep. Beth Kerttula. Kerttula declined. “It was a crushing blow to Palin,” Dunn speculates, then adds bombastically, “It would not be the last time that McCain advisers noticed a substantive discrepancy between Palin’s perceptions of reality and the truth.”
In this case and others Dunn provides, Palin’s deceit appears to be born more out of miscalculation than malice. And even weightier examples – such as ethics violations or allocations of public funds for private gains – are unclear as the extent of the crime. The best this reader could discern was that Palin does not draw a bright line between her work as a public official and her personal business. This lapse is troubling, perhaps troubling enough not to put her on the presidential ticket, but it seems undeserving of Dunn’s scorn.
His indignation might be more persuasive if he offered new or compelling information for his charges; however, the bulk of his case against Palin is built out of conversations with people who don’t like her. The result doesn’t feel so much like rigorous reporting as a transcript of the seventh grade. In fact, nearly the entire first chapter of the book is devoted to Sarah then-Heath’s junior high and high school career. Before a lengthy description of a new girl moving to Wasilla only to be asked out by a boy Saraj allegedly had a crush on, Dunn writes, “As she readied for her eighth grade year, Sarah Heath’s world was about to grow bleak.”
This is the deep background on Sarah Palin?
Dunn’s extensive interviews might have been put to better use in analyzing why Palin inspires such strong reactions, or what she suggests about contemporary politics. He offers no explanation for Palin’s popularity, except to acknowledge that even her detractors agree she is charismatic, physically attractive, and connects with her audience. Nor does he point out what seems to be an obvious theme that emerges: Palin is a gifted political operative but an uninspired political thinker. “ ‘Policy doesn’t interest her,’ ” Dunn reports Palin’s former legislative director as saying, “ ‘She can’t focus on it. She’s consumed by human interaction. Gossip and dirt is what she lives for.’ ”
Does Palin’s prominence suggest that in the Information Age, political maneuvering is more important than policy? That the traditional gatekeepers to power have been stormed? That Palin is offering something that parts of the American public aren’t getting anywhere else?
Dunn doesn’t say. Instead, even as he laments how snarky and petty Palin’s discourse is, he gleefully serves up more of the same.
Kelly Nuxoll is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.