This was a bad and unhelpful book.
It was not bad because it was simple. Goldwater (or his ghost) used fewer pages in Conscience of a Conservative and said more. It was not bad because it was autobiographical. Though I don’t like his politics, President Obama confessed more and said it better in Dreams from My Father. If you don’t believe that this book is bad, then read (really do!) Ronald Reagan’s autobiography Where’s the Rest of Me? Ronald Reagan showed more substance in his delightful book written mostly about his time as an actor than Palin shows in her four hundred pages.
Reagan (or his ghost) did not write a wonk book. It is very, very readable, but it wrestles with ideas even in the context of a film star career! It is not Plato, but it is interesting and makes you want to talk to the man who wrote it. There is a man behind the book, the Gipper is in every paragraph, but there is only a ghost of a personality in the corporate machine written Going Rogue.
The best you can say about this book is that it is forgettable and will be forgotten. It is a book-of-the-moment non-book meant to be purchased and given as a Christmas gift to conservatives. It is an utter waste of an opportunity for something better, but it is no worse than most political “memoirs” of its type.
It is better than Pelosi, but damning a person with that comparison is almost too cruel after what Palin has endured.
What are the ten things the book taught me?
First, Palin is a unique political talent, but her abilities do not extend to the written word. That is too bad, because our best politicians may use a ghost at times, but they also know words and do not fear them. Reagan is a great example of this. He could write. Of course, that does not mean she should not be President, but it does limit her.
Her publisher did not fact check this book well (if at all). She was badly served by her publisher and editor. People who criticize me for nit-picking her use of quotations miss the point. I am a fan . . . though now a weary one . . . and I found the errors. The publisher had to know that her critics would check every fact.
How can I in a single day with no help find error after error when I am no writer, no editor (as this blog post indicates), and no specialist?
Second, Sarah Palin has not grown in the year since the election. Those of us who hoped that Palin had been “hidden” by the campaign know the truth now. She still is what she was.
She is smart, but not book-smart. She has common sense, but not practical wisdom. These are not fatal flaws, but she shows no signs of changing or recognizing them.
Third, Palin uses four hundred pages to give her side of things, but I am still at a loss to describe her political or governing philosophy in any detail. President Obama is sickening us all on the academic as commander-in-chief. She is the opposite of President Obama, but the opposite of excess is defect and not virtue. Again, Reagan wrote a breeze easy autobiography from which you could discern a serious man, so I did not want a dissertation, just a better book.
There is plenty of intellectual real estate between this book and a dissertation in which she could have settled.
Fourth, Palin has the makings of a splendid executive and is a gifted speaker. She could learn what she needs to know, but my fear after reading this book is that she does not care to learn it.
The book is not intellectually roguish, but intellectually rougish. It covers up something with the appearance of health, but we are left to wonder what is being covered up.
Fifth, Palin was an effective mayor and governor. McCain destroyed that promise with his doomed campaign. This is another reason to curse the 2008 election.
Sixth, Palin is most effective in new media because the way it is typically used plays to her strengths. However, it also encourages her weaknesses as it tends to build a like minded community with too little criticism and allows her to stick to sound bites and generalities.
Seventh, Palin uses books as entertainment, to get information, and to confirm beliefs. I see no evidence she reads as an intellectual adventure or to change her mind. This is dangerous in a political leader as it tends to make leadership personality driven rather than idea driven.
Eighth, Palin is sensitive to the charge she is “dumb,” but has not been given the tools or the teachers who can help her. (Has she sought them out?) She needs teachers who assume her intelligence, who challenge her, and speak her Evangelical language. Such teachers (see Moreland, J.P.) exist and she should seek them out.
Ninth, Palin has been abused by the culture and is justifiably hurt and enraged.
Tenth, if Palin does not run for President, then all of this is much ado about little. She seems a splendid person who has lived a remarkable life, even if this book did nothing much to help us see this truth.
Sadly, I now believe the burden of proof has shifted. While an excellent chief executive in Alaska, there is reason to believe that Palin lacks the intellectual skills needed to be an effective President. Most important, she does not seem to recognize this and shows no sign of getting them.
I have not given up on Palin and find much in her to admire, but she would not get my primary vote based on this book and what I know about her to date. I hope I am wrong and am open to changing my mind.
She has more promise than any Republican candidate I can name and I still have hopes for Sarah Palin, but hope needs substance or it becomes a disillusioned faith.
This was a bad and unhelpful book.