Introduction to the Project:

(This is a completed live blog. I have decided not to correct most typographical errors or “fix” it. Some was done as late as 3 AM as I finished the book, but I felt the authenticity of the moment generally better than a smoothed out version.)

I have defended Sarah Palin on numerous occasions against critics. I thought some conservatives turned on her too soon and that her executive experience outweighed any negatives known about her. I certainly did not think flubbing some interviews made her unfit to be a chief executive.

If one were to support a pol based on their enemies, no conservative Christian would vote for anyone other than Palin. The fact that Sarah Palin has a womb has apparently caused some critics such as Andrew Sullivan to lose their minds.

Over time, however, I have grown a bit disenchanted with Governor Palin. Nobody reasonable expects to like everything about a political figure . . . conservatives and Christians don’t put much trust in princes or princesses for that matter. Her inexplicable resignation as governor of Alaska years before her term ended should be difficult for even the most devoted Palinista. She has also not been much of a team player and it has been hard to discern a coherent pattern to her positions.

She appears driven more by personality than by philosophy in making policy decisions.

On the positive side she has mastered new media and shows awesome instincts in capturing the mood of parts of the nation in terse Facebook prose. I waited for her book Going Rogue with some interest as a window into her ideas and to address some of these concerns.

Even though I am a Romney guy, 2012 is too far away to have overly firm commitments if you are just a regular guy and not a Party apparatchik and Palin could persuade me.

This is a live chapter-by-chapter reaction as I read that book this weekend. It will follow my thoughts and so may not be particularly orderly or well written! You will notice that I may change my mind as the live reading progresses.

I took this book seriously, because I want to take Palin seriously.

I will post my final thoughts at the end of the review and as a separate post.

Chapter One

This is not a well written book so far. It is overly purple and reads like a parody of high prose. The good news is that it is not a fake book like Mike Huckabee’s dreadful post-election conflation of speeches, revenge, and random thoughts.

Still, this is a bad book up through chapter one.

Should Palin get the blame?

There are few things more irritating to the reader than the modern practice of ghost writing. How much of this book did Palin write? Is she responsible for the description of the Alaska state fair that I had to re-read twice just to grasp?

Palin did not invent the ghost written book, but she has not been well served by it so far. The adjectives in this book are the worst part: steely, plucky, scrappy.

Crappy.

The description of her childhood is like reading a grocery list. Everything is there, but it is hard to care. Her family life sounds warm, but the warmth can only be guessed at because she tells us rather than shows us that it is so.

The book is given to stating things as if we will know their truth by their merely being said.

Palin, the Monkees, and Plato

The most irritating thing about the book so far is Palin overreacting to critics. I once went to a Monkees concert scarred by the group insisting on showing how many instruments they could play. They were still upset about critics from the 1960s who said the boy band was fake!

Palin obviously was justifiably upset by accusations she is dim, but so far this book is not helping her case. She keeps describing herself as a reader and even named C.S. Lewis as a favorite writer, but so far there is no description of anything in a book that moved her and changed her life.

What Lewis does she like? Is the Lewis of That Hideous Strength or the Lewis of Til We Have Faces? Is she a fan of the Narnian Lewis or the argument in Abolition of Man? Did she poke the backs of closets when she was a kid?

We get none of this and so we are left wondering if she read books deeply or as a television substitute in the Alaska of her youth.

It is easy to see the difference when she talks about sports. She can describe in detail what she learned from running, but she never mentions what she learned from a book.  There are mentions of Pascal and Plato (!) in the first chapter, but they are referenced as sources of “thoughts” and not as a source for critical ideas or challenges to her life.

I don’t believe a pol has to read Plato for fun to be effective. God knows that many a liberal arts graduate has proven useless at doing things and that Palin has done more in her way than I ever will. Anybody from my home state of West Virginia knows scores of people whose common sense would serve us better in government than angst ridden college graduates whose very uncertainty leads them to believe that they alone should be our philosopher kings.

May Obama be our last president of that sort!

But the ridiculous use of quotes or “big ideas” from great writers that one does not really read or know should end as well. When Palin artlessly writes: “Plato said it well, ‘Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,’” did she know the context of the quotation? Is it even in Plato? I cannot find it, don’t remember reading it,  and I suspect that it is spurious. Can someone give me a reference?

It looks like the sort of thing Google tells you Plato said, but where the reference is impossible to find.

I am willing to bet at this point that Plato never said it, but if he did I am even more willing to bet that Palin and her writer are quote mining. If Plato said such a thing, it was likely in the context of the battle of each man against his lower nature. For Plato the chief battle was the inner one, but Palin uses it to reference our need to sympathize for people’s physical pain and life torments.

It is hard to imagine the Socrates of Phaedo making such a statement. So even if Plato said it (and he wrote so much it is hard to be sure), I am guessing that the context is wrong.

Why do I care? Partly, this is a live blog of my reading and I am a Plato guy so you are stuck with reading what I am thinking, but mostly because I find this kind of misuse of Plato irritating. Why do it? What is gained? Why quote mine?

A Political Philosophy?

As for political ideas, Palin is apparently for things that have helped her and her family and against things that have harmed her or her family. She is a populist about oil spills (rightly I think), because it impacts her state, but otherwise is sunny about big business.

If I read the chapter right, the only bad big business, oil, is bad because Palin has experienced its badness.

This may be uncharitable. Perhaps Palin is a default libertarian who will change her mind in particular instances when big business forces her to do so. In her world view business and business people are innocent until proven guilty.

If so, this is an appealing blend of populism and free markets. It would be nice, however, if Palin said this. Maybe she does later in the book as she spells out common-sense (or roguish!) conservatism.

Is Palin a Christian Existentialist? Sort of?

I am not enjoying this book so far. If I could hear Palin telling her stories about basketball and Alaska, I bet I would love it. She is a speaker and not a writer . . . I think I would like her more than I am liking this book. Perhaps I am just a snob . . . and want something more from Palin than I should.

What is bothering me about her tales of childhood? One thing I like about President Obama’s writing is that it is reflective. One thing I don’t like about President Obama’s writing is that it is too introspective as if every thought he ever had is worth scrutiny. One can imagine him debating why he likes arugula and what it says about self. Palin seems to be just the opposite.

I am hoping at some point she displays some introspection. Is it wrong to hope for some?

Am I now demonstrating the same self-indulgent introspection about introspection that I don’t like in Obama?

At least Palin has me thinking . . . though mostly about her not thinking.

The section on Todd and his family is generous and authentic. Sarah learned something from Todd’s diverse background and it shows. Her voice seems very present in this section. There is hope in this part of the book as it contains no slogans drawn from dimly remembered Reagan speeches.

She loves Alaska, loves the land, and hates people who wreck it. There is no doubt in my mind about any of those things and there are worse traits than these in a leader.

Are there two Sarahs? There is Sarah who is force fed policy speeches and Googles Plato quotes and then there is experiential Sarah who learns by doing.

I am wondering if Palin likes to read, but learns from actions. Perhaps, she would be better served by embracing this, but it also is open question whether this style of intellect is good in a leader of a republic. I am open to it.

This would explain how Sarah has used books and authors so far. She learns something from her experience or that of others and then finds the “smart person” to confirm her ideas of the world. Is she a Baconian politician seeking a covering philosophy for her real world experiences?

So far Sarah has been pretty easy on herself. She seems to be learning from other peoples sins more than her own.  What were her vices? Nerdiness? This strikes me as the equivalent of listing “works too hard” as a vice on a job application. She calls her nice guy husband a “jerk” for a high school indiscretion, but she has yet to mention ever being wrong herself  in any interesting way.

Mattering Most Of All

Palin writes: “hard work and passion matter most of all.”

This is not true. What if someone has bad ideas? What is an oil company executive works hard an dis passionate in his goal to despoil Alaska and make money? Is he good?

Of course, taking the prose this seriously makes me a clueless academic. This is the sort of thing people write and do not mean. They assume we know that it only applies to morally good people. I am not sure that is true at the higher level of politics, however.

One would not tell the leaders of Iran to work harder and be more passionate about their ideas.

Even in a generous context, however, the idea seems wrong. Palin’s account of her championship year is oddly Palincentric. So far people have appeared in her life and been described, but seem to exist as props in her story. Most likely this is the fault of the writing, but it presents her as self-absorbed.

She scored one point in a championship game, but we are led to believe her playing with pain somehow inspired the win. Who if anyone was the real hero of the game . . . the person with talent who made the baskets?

Talent, which Palin obviously has in abundance in many areas, seems at least as important as hard work and passion. If I had worked as hard as Palin, she would still have been a better athlete than I am, because I lack her gifts.

However, I do believe Palin, when she says she learned a great deal by winning the state basketball championship.

Palin and College

Palin is right to complain about snobbery regarding her college career.

She went to several schools, but seems to have done so to remain debt free. Just going to college and finishing was an accomplishment given that her social set would have accepted her without a college degree.

What does Palin report about college?

Her first year (in Hawaii) seems to have been mostly fun in the sun. It is hard to blame her for that and many of my students can report the same thing.

Her next years of college were (on her account) dominated intellectually by Reagan. As a person about Palin’s age, I can relate to that. She describes Reagan in familiar terms, but as political science major does not interact with Reagan and what she was learning in class.

Was her school so pro-Reagan that she did not have any conflicts? That was not my experience in either a Christian or a secular college. Reagan was controversial amongst most academics and was often treated with disrespect by my professors. Was this true of Palin’s?

Where are her professors?

What were her notable classes?

College appears to have been a “union card” for Palin as it is for so many of us middle-class kids. Other than her Dad and some coaches, she appears to have had no notable teachers.

It is a good reminder to college professors how little impact we have on our students. We are not nearly so important as we think . . . and it is hard not to believe that Idaho failed her. It certainly did not inspire her to mention anything she learned in class.

What exactly is the point of the big general education classes that Palin attended? Isn’t it safe to assume they have almost no lasting impact on most their students? College as a mere right of passage of this sort appears an incredible waste of opportunity.

Couldn’t Palin have gotten what it appears she received from an on-line college?

Palin as Hard Worker

Palin has worked hard.

That is a good thing and her hard work made a bigger impression on her than college. That too is not surprising given the education she was offered at the schools she attended.

Would McCain have picked her without the college degree? Isn’t it absurd that she spent five years earning something, a diploma, that impacted her so little and that we demand such a thing of our leaders?

If it impacts most of them so little, why?

A true sentence in this book: “I did what I had to do.”

I believe and admire Palin for this, because it is obviously true. Palin is (in the right sense) a self-made woman who had to sacrifice and work hard to make it.

We discount this kind of woman’s experience at our peril. Leaders can be born in many places and I see no reason that Palin’s choice to work a fishing boat to help her husband and son is not as formative as any other.

I hope she gets very rich from this book.

On Exxon

The first chapters closed with a description of the oil spill that rocked Alaska. Her justifiable wrath with ExxonMobile oil company is obvious.

Criticisms of Palin on this point have been overdone, in my opinion. It is coherent to think that oil should be drilled, but to be angry when bad practices by some oil companies harm Alaska. To think you should “drill baby drill” does not mean that all drillers are good.

Palin is more nuanced in this section than in any part of the book so far.

Perhaps her second chapter will continue this improvement as the book shifts more to politics.

Chapter Two

On Aristotle

Palin begins her second chapter with a quote from Aristotle. I think I must be going mad, but I cannot remember this quotation either. Where is it?

I cannot find a reference in any book I own . . . but then I am writing this as I read her book. Can someone help me? Did Aristotle say, ” Criticism is something we can avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing?”

I want a reference to the text.

It is surely not possible that in less than one hundred pages that Palin got two ancient quotations wrong?

It is bad enough if they are used as motivational slogan writers, but couldn’t we at least get the philosopher right?

Maybe I am just having a memory failure. Can some Palinista deliver Sarah by pointing out the reference in the Philosopher’s work?

We have all been taken in my an urban legend. I once read (in a book!) that Alfred Wallace was a “lord” and got properly spanked for passing this piece of nonsense on, but I am beginning to worry about the fact checking in this book.

As Plato did not say, “Getting this sort of thing wrong too often and too quickly is hard on the soul of the reader.”

I strongly suspect that the ghostwriter Googled her way through ancient philosophy quotations. Learn from this students . . . the fact that someone says Aristotle said a thing does not mean that he did.

On Entering Politics

However random the first chapter seemed, the story of Palin’s entering politics is more readable and polished. She knows how she thinks about this era of her life.

Her rise as she tells it is appealing so far. I admire her willingness to raise taxes to pay for a local police department. That is why we render to Caesar!

Palin shows a strong libertarian streak in the chapter with government doing what it can at the edges. In this way, she really should read Aristotle, because he would defend (I think) her notion that politics is an art and not a science.

Palin is also strong when she argues against “old boy” networks in local politics. Who hasn’t faced that in his hometown?

The kind of experience that Palin gained as mayor strikes me as very valuable real world executive leadership. She actually had to do things and see the consequences. Wasilla is small and eccentric, but then so was ancient Athens!

You can learn a great deal by working in a place where everybody knows where you live. Weirdly, the political Palin is coming across as more authentic than the young Palin.

Stop the Quotes Now!

I am giving up trying to confirm Palin quotations, but the irritating habit suddenly saying: “I didn’t take to heart the words of Martin Luther King Jr.  . . . ” or some other quotable chap. Was Palin considering King’s words and refused to take them to hear?

Or is she retroactively thinking about them? Where did she find King’s words? Is she a King fan?

I predict that soon we will have a Teddy Roosevelt quote. I can also feel a G.K. Chesterton quotation coming . . . and Mother Theresa is usually good for citation.

Will Sarah let me down or will she quote mine these favorites soon?

This book is really disappointing.

On Being Wrong

Finally Palin admits to doing something bad (page 88) as she apologizes for refusing to back her mother-in-law in politics. This is a well written apology and she seems to have learned that personal connections and loyalty can be important than personal ambition.

This is a fine lesson within limits. She was right to worry about nepotism, but probably wrong to back some one other than her mother.

Palin values loyalty, but not at the cost of her ideals. This is a good thing.

Her resignation from the natural resources board is a story that has been told many times, but it is well told her. This is the Palin I admired and her discussion of the “end of her political career” is moving and strikes me as authentic.

The difference between her use of Jeremiah and the her inauthentic misuse of early quotation is revealing. She did the right thing, suffered for it (even if briefly), and it caused her to reevaluate her life.

Hopefully the rest of the book will continue in this manner.

The Book To Now

What do I think of “Our Sarah” (as some called her) up to this point in the book?

Palin learns by doing. She is highly energetic and fiercely loyal to her folks and family. She has mastered everything thrown at her by a total immersion strategy and by her ability to push harder than most people.

She has always been polarizing and she does not suffer fools gladly. She has been hurt a bit by media attacks on her education and intelligence, but has not reacted in a helpful manner to them.

Is she fit to be President? Perhaps, but I am concerned about her polarizing nature, her dark mood toward critics, and imprecision. Her confidence, energy, native intelligence, and leadership skills are impressive.

Palin has not been well served by this book so far as a book. As a money making and attention getting device it seems to be going very well, but the book is bad so far.

Of course if writing autobiography well were a mark of a great President, then U.S. Grant would have been our finest chief executive.

Something I Cannot Judge

Finally, Palin has faced discrimination in her career from being a woman, being physically attractive, being from Alaska, and being an Evangelical. However, she has reacted to this prejudices by becoming defensive.

This is understandable, justifiable, but will not serve her well in national politics. Rage about slights against self rarely go over well . . . and have caused her to harm her own cause at times however unfair this might be.

She is certainly entitled to her anger and her suspicions, but she might want to reexamine whether her preferred strategy for dealing with both has the outcome she wishes.

I am in no position to judge of course in most of these areas.

I am now taking a break from this blogging for a few hours.

Chapter Three

Palin runs and wins an election for governor in this chapter. The pace of this book reminds you of how young Palin really is for national life.

She truly is an outsider.

She hates “deals” and “power brokers.” Post-Obama and the Great Recession it would be foolish to dismiss this authentic rage. She sounds most herself when she hitting corrupt special interests that lock people out of decision making. She sounds least like herself when repeating 1980’s Republican bromides.

Palin is a populist of the heart, but too sensible to let her populism take her to the lunatic fringe. If she can verbally negotiate the tension in future speeches between Reaganism and populism, she will have found a winning electoral strategy.

Palin is No Theocrat

Palin’s unhinged critics keep seeing her as a theocrat, but the book should end that talk for anyone not starving raving mad.

Palin is very religious and this obviously informs her personal life deeply, but I see no evidence that it impacts her public policy decisions in any way foreign to the American experiment. In fact, if anything one can question whether Palin’s faith is not too privatized.

She argues public policy on the merits, but then describes her final decision in passionate terms using the language of religion. This is standard American practice. So far in the text her faith appears to inform the person Palin becomes who then makes political decisions using reasons available to any American.

If she is “too religious,” then so are most Americans. She is no prude and obviously has lived in the real world.

My guess is that faith forms her moral intuitions and makes certain views, like small government, plausible, but is not used to determine positions where it has nothing directly to say. It is hard to see her using the Bible (directly) to determine energy policy given her discussions in this chapter.

In fact, she may use the Bible the way she used Plato earlier .  . . as a way to sanctify (just as Plato intellectualized) her decisions. Does Palin every bow the knee to an idea contrary to her lived experience? The wise often do this as they know the limits of their own experience, but a fool with power never does.

There is hope in Palin’s resignation for the energy board for here, it seems, was one selfless act driven by what Lewis would call the Tao.

It is common to use old books merely to confirm and not to challenge our ideas, but would be most unfortunate since it would mark her as a superficial Christian. A Christian must always be frightened by the Bible, because it makes demands of him that only a saint could even come close to meeting and that no saint ever believes he has met.

A more charitable reading, more likely at this point in the book, is that her faith gives her a basic view of reality and that she then uses that view to make fact-based decisions. Since her views are fairly standard Christian ideas and America historically has been overwhelmingly Christian, her basic views have not had to change when facing political realities.

If this is the basic relationship of her faith to her politics, then her views are well within the Christian and American mainstream. Her private religious practices may (or may not) be more esoteric, but then they did not seem to impact her public policy decisions and so are only our concern if she makes them part of her public persona or platform.

She has not done so in this book so far.

Even on this charitable reading of Palin, however, she still falls into the unfortunate habit of using religious language improperly to baptize her decisions. She should lose this if she can. While American presidents including Franklin Roosevelt (!) have done this in a more extreme manner, Palin will be held to a higher standard than they were as an Evangelical Christian.

She should do nothing to comfort those who think Billy Graham, the Bishop of Phoenix, or Al Mohler are budding theocrats.

Palin as Governor

Palin wanted to clean up corruption in Alaskan politics and she went after it with a vengeance. It is hard to see that she wanted to do much else.

If Palin runs for President of the United States, I suspect she will want little in terms of new domestic policy. She will throw the rascals in jail and then trim and cut. She would enjoy the trappings of office and be an excellent head of state.

Reading about her goals in office makes her resignation understandable for the first time. Palin does not think the state can solve many problems. Where the state constitution gave the state power and that power had been used to create financial reserves, Palin saw political rats eating the patrimony of Alaska.

When she cleaned the rats out of government, her major mission was accomplished. She was not one to grow government or develop new programs. She is a Cal Coolidge in that regard, though she loves the “bully pulpit” aspect of the job more than Silent Cal ever did. Nobody will ever call her Silent Sarah.

When the vice-presidential loss made her a polarizing figure in Alaska, she could no longer be a unifying head of the state. She had limiting governing priorities, so why stay? She had a competent second in command who wanted the job and she did not.

This is a charming picture in a politician. Perhaps Governor Palin can be trusted with power, because she wishes to do so little with it. I can easily believe that her domestic agenda would discomfort the powerful in both parties, but that actual legislation would be simple.

Palin is no Eva Peron.

Palin as Excutive: A Tough Question
If Palin runs for President, we will only be able to judge her based on her short time as governor of Alaska and as mayor. What is her executive style?

If I accept her description of her time as governor, Palin obviously inspires fierce loyalty. Before her vice-presidential selection, she was able to govern as a bi-partisan figure. However, it is not clear that she can inspire the long term loyalty of subordinates more capable than she is.

All leaders must hire people who are better at parts of their job than they are. Reagan was a master of this and could inspire academics and technicians far more “competent” at tasks with fierce loyalty. Reagan was a world class leader who was content to lead . . . and kept excellent men and women nearby like Judge William Clark who could tell him the truth.

In this autobiography, Palin too often has followers or those she dazzles and I see too few long term people in her brain trust. She has no enduring kitchen cabinet or group of backers. This is very, very disturbing.

Her old allies often become new foes and she is quick with a quip to put them in her place. A good executive should command loyalty, but no produce sycophants or demand followers . . . at least in a republic.

My reading of Palin leaves me with this question, “Who are the people, smarter and more capable than she, that have stuck by Palin? Who is Palin accountable too intellectually?”

In a republic a president who cannot inspire the loyalty of the peers, and not the obedience of subordinates, runs the risk of insulating herself from critical information.

Palin as Governor: Detail Nerd

The bulk of the chapter on Palin’s years as governor remind me of what I like about her candidacy. Palin obviously cared about her state and tried to deliver on her promises.

She cared about getting the details right on the state budget, which is after all more important than getting the details right on a Plato quote in her ghost-written book.

I was reminded that before she was Palin-Hell-Raising Icon-made-divisive by attacks, she was a popular and respected reform leader. Democrats in Alaska liked her better than some Republican leaders. It is easy to see why.

She had a record of real accomplishments, including an ethics reform bill and a major gas deal.

As a working mother, she pioneered the sort of bring-your-children to work model that more companies should try.

Sarah Palin obviously was a good governor and John McCain either ruined or made her. It is hard to see which is true at the moment . . . though safe to say her bank account will be better off after this book.

I have been hard on the weaknesses of this book, but Sarah Palin has her strengths as an executive and as a leader and this chapter shows them.

If Palin is not running for President of the United States, then I am sorry to have given this pleasant little book such close scrutiny. Palin has been hit hard by gutter politics and she deserves the gratitude of every Republican for the thankless task of breathing some life into the moribund McCain campaign.

I voted for Palin and not McCain, really.

Palin, however, does not demonstrate enough growth over time in serious policy areas. I don’t care if her goal is a Fox News or Oprah variety show, but she wants (wanted?) to be taken seriously as a leader and I respect that.

I cannot respect the lack of substance. People complain about the length of this live blog, but her book is four hundred pages long. It has details about many areas of her life, but there are so few ideas.

Palin gets things done, but does she have a sufficient philosophical core? I gave her the benefit of the doubt in 2008 based on her record and I am still impressed with this record . . . but the record has not grown, her philosophy is no more clear, and that is not satisfactory if she wants to be leader of the Free World.

Palin herself knows that only a person growing and on the edge can make positive change.

Perhaps John McCain is guilty of ruining a career by promoting a person before she was ready. Perhaps.

Or perhaps I am being too critical. . . but President Obama has been taken to task (rightly I think) for his self-indulgent writings, they are masterpieces of reflection compared to this. I agree with little of his political philosophy, but he obviously has one.

Surely it is obvious that a bad philosophy is best met by a better one and not be none at all? Commonsense is an excellent philosophical tradition and I have enough Scott-Irish blood to appreciate it! Commonsense must be more than a slogan.

If Palin is going to run as a “commonsense conservative” she needs to spell out the details of how that policy will impact us.

Palin and Her Baby


Sarah Palin’s description of her last pregnancy and her reaction to the news of her baby’s special needs reminds me of another thing that I loved about her candidacy.

Despite the lame prose, the book made me tear up when it described her reaction to her pregnancy. Here was honesty, self-doubt, and candor.

Here is a person who has grown through difficulty. Here is the kind of sincere reflection on a difficult issue that matters. There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin understands the right-to-life issue and grasps its importance.

This counts for much in my mind. Sarah Palin has a well formed intellectual position on this issue and has acted admirably. Evil times make normal morality heroic and Palin acted out her beliefs in a manner that in better times would be normal, but is now rare.

I greatly admire the actions of  this mother of Trig, a child in God’s image.

Palin, Social Snobbery, and the Armed Forces

There is no doubt in my mind that a good bit of the opposition to Sarah Palin is a disgusting form of snobbery. Palin talks “funny” and went to the wrong schools. She hunts and likes blue-collars sports like hockey. She is from the parts of the country, rural or urban, that are supposed to serve their betters, not rule them.

If you are from West Virginia, like I am, you are tempted to vote for Sarah Palin just to tell the bigots off. God help me, but those dismissive of the possibility that anything good can come from Alaska madden me.

Some in our culture expect the sons of Alaska, West Virginia, and disadvantaged urban areas like Compton to fight and die to protect them while they sniff and sneer and carefully keep their mercenaries away from real power.

When Wall Street receives billions in federal boodle, while Main Street is shuttered, Palin looks better to me.

When the brightest and the best of our elite schools, rob us of our freedoms and our future, then the folks in the forgotten places have a right to wonder if anything could be worse.

Palin’s son volunteered to fight for freedom, because people like the Palins always volunteer to fight for our freedoms. God bless her son and God bless her for the firm resolution that she will stand with the regular folks that are too often forgotten.

That part of Palin is refreshing and bracing. It almost makes up for the mumbled political philosophy.

Almost.

Because though elitism is bad, so is anti-elitism. Education and experience are not without value and the examined life is still the best life. The folks that make America work are not perfect, but there is a wisdom in their experiences not taught in books.

My grandparents were great people and I admire them more than most of our so called leaders today.

But.

One of my grandfathers wisely would not accept certain promotions at his work, because he knew the limits of his experiences. It was unfair, but he didn’t have the chance to learn what he need to know.

Commonsense is not always enough. Sometimes you have to know the details of your philosophy, especially as a leader.

Let me be honest as I know how to be. Most of the Republican Party seems just as self-interested as the Democrats. I have seen and heard party bosses mock religious voters behind closed doors. Nobody is fool enough to believe that Pelosi or Reid are any brighter than Palin . . . and Pelosi is responsible for worse writing.

Palin could give Harry Reid two laps in a leadership race and still beat him to the finish line.

That does not mean Palin is the right leader.

Palin frustrates me, because she has charisma and to spare. She gives as good a set speech as anyone in her generation . . . and she is obviously very bright. She is an authentic outsider, but seems unwilling to do the work to raze hell.

Those that stereotype and dismiss her would be easy to destroy, if she would just take the time to read the books she cites. Many of her critics are sexist and complacent in their arrogant assumption that she is stupid, but a book like this one does nothing to defeat them.

Palin will make money and satisfy her base, but she could do and be so much more. She has once-in-a-generation talents, but at the moment there is too little evidence that there are connected with any ideas that go beyond slogans.

When Palin was a vice-presidential candidate, I scoffed at people who thought she should wonk out. That was not her job. She was a pit bull, because she had to be. It was her job, but she has had a year to brush up and four hundred pages in which to argue her case and she has not done so.

To paraphrase an old commercial, “Where is the beef?”

It was not in her chapter on being governor. There was no vision . . . and Sarah Palin knows that if there is no vision the people perish. It would not have enough for Moses to know that his people needed to be let go, if he had not been able to organize thousands of people to march out of Egypt.

This book is an agony for those looking for a vision for the nation in these difficult times. Where is the detailed vision for an alternative future to Obama?

And for those who say that this is not what this book was about, then what is it about? It is no true autobiography. It is a political book written by a politician.

It has pages on campaign details and policy fights, but it does not explain in common language or any other kind of language where the campaigns and the policies are going. It is as if Palin is running hard in a general direction without knowing exactly where she is going.

Philosophy in this degenerate age can be a vanity . . . and is often a vanity. We talk and talk and people starve while we talk some more. Palin is right that her job is to act, but the very phrase “vain philosophy” implies that there is a true love of wisdom and just ending the vanity does not begin the wisdom.

Practical wisdom is guided not just by common sense, but by reason and the experiences of generations of wise people from ages past. Palin knows this is true, but shows no knowledge of it.

Don’t tell me a plain speaking book has to be this devoid of ideas. Read Lincoln. He could get big ideas across in simple ways to farmers with primary school educations. Read Reagan. He was not Lincoln, but he did the same thing in a television age. When I was a kid, I read Conscience of a Conservative in some yellowing paperback and it made sense to me. For heaven’s sake, read William Jennings Bryan who sent the Grange through the roof with prose that sounds positively dialogicala compared to this book!

Teddy Roosevelt could thunder and denounce with the best of them, but he could write a book. Dwight Eisenhower won a war and then had someone ghost an awesome account of that win. If Palin is running for President, we needed more.

We don’t need a philosopher president, but we do need someone who can make our cause appear plausible to the half persuaded.

I want to like Palin. I love many things about her politics, but where oh where oh where are the ideas?

I hope I am wrong.

Chapter Four

At last the chapter for which we have all been waiting: Sarah Palin is picked as McCain’s running mate. For those of us who were Palin fans before the announcement it is is interesting to read what was happening behind the news stories.

Palin was treated badly by the media. They sneered at her like she was a Window user at a Mac convention. She was hit harder than anyone I have ever seen . . . and the McCain camp was not ready. They mishandled the issue of her daughter’s pregnancy by not getting ahead of the story. Instead, they had a weird desire to probe her theistic evolutionist views (“creationism” in the most liberal sense of the term).

Palin comes across well in the opening of the chapter. She was hit by stuff nobody prepared her for and it is easy to forget that her first two encounters on the national stage were grand slams. I think her convention speech the best of either convention.

She was boffo.

Conservatives should never give up on a talent like Palin as long as she can lead and give speeches like that! She made my entire family cheer for John McCain, a task more difficult than most.

Oddly, this part of the book is the least revealing. We have heard most of it before, but I think the idea that she is “vengeful” is nonsense. She settles some scores and answers lies she thinks has been told about her.

She does not strike me as vengeful about it.

Her description of her speechwriter Matthew Scully reminded me of what could have been. She references my friend the Crunchy Con Rod Dreher . . . one of the first conservatives she later lost.

Palin would control the nomination process if she had more Scully in her. Can she do it? I don’t know.

Conservatives that think Palin critics are all RINOs are wrong. I thought (and still think) that Dreher abandoned Palin too quickly. . . though this book has forced me to the conclusion that he may have been right in his judgment. If you are hasty, but right, then you are still too hasty!

There are of course RINO’s out there, but when Palin lost Dreher and others disposed to like her there was a problem. The McCain campaign may have picked her before she was ready, or utterly and disastrously mishandled her, or both.

The weirdest thing about this chapter is that Palin constantly talks about Palin talking to people about policy, but the details given to the reader are all about clothes and campaign chat which she allegedly hated. Now I know geekery about Iraq might have sold fewer books, but did her publisher make her talk about what she claims to have not cared about and not write about what she did care about?

Did the rogue obey her publisher?

Or did she write about what actually excited her?

It is hard to take her policy wonkery seriously when the details are all elsewhere. When a man claims to love the Packers, he should not always be talking about the Vikings or his friends will begin to doubt his interests.

Palin was candid about how she hated being screened from the press. The campaign’s handling of this was a disaster! Why didn’t they let her warm up with Alaska press and friendly reporters from day one? Why did they hide her?

Obviously, their strategy took a huge public asset and tarnished it badly. It is hard to imagine any other idea going worse!

I thought her explanation of the Couric interview was excellent if the full tape of the interview backs her up. Why didn’t the campaign have someone making their own copy of the full interview? I am just a teacher and I know to do that!

Couric should release the whole tape if she has not done so already and let us make up our minds. Palin has charged her with abusive editing and now Ms. Couric should let the truth be known.

I doubt she dares.

The story of the campaign was not new to me, but it reminded me that Palin was the only good thing, at least for a brief moment, that happened to the McCain campaign. John McCain certainly did not lose because he picked Sarah Palin.

Palin should have been given more policy speeches, but Palin could be giving them now, could have written a book chock-a-block full of them, but she chose not to do so. She cannot blame the campaign for that.

If Palin is not running for office again, then I don’t blame her for telling her story, getting her handsome check, and doing something nice for her family. If she is running for office, she should have said more about policy and less about celebrities in this section.

There is no discussion of the economy or foreign policy in her description of the campaign. This is disappointing, because it plays to her critics.

As I have worked on this long, long, live commentary I have already started getting nasty email. This has caused me to reflect on whether I have been too hard on Sarah Palin.

I think not. The only way I know to admire a person is to take their work (and a book is serious work) seriously. Did Palin take it as seriously?

Chapter Five

I have changed my mind about one issue by the end of this book. Palin’s resignation as governor now makes a good deal of sense to me. The media pressure and ethics complaints did not fade away and she was no longer able to do her job.

I thought her resignation nearly a “deal breaker,” but that was a hasty judgment on my part.

Surely the day will come when the media will tire of kicking Palin and then she will get peace. Some will argue that Palin is getting rich off of her media exposure, but this is a shoddy justification for treating a patriot badly.

One reason I hesitated in starting this project was that I feared I would not like the book as much as I wished and I did not want to add to the people piling on Palin. She is a real person and a sister in Christ.

Of course, with good luck she will never see my long cry-of-the-heart and I am sure if she did would laugh it off (“What’s with is Plato obsession?”) as an academic-nerd-boy all excited about nothing.

She sells in her millions and I in my hundreds!

In any case this chapter reminded me of what much Palin gave up to run for Vice President. Money cannot replace it. Money cannot shut the mouths of the cruel bloggers who accuse her of being a womb raider and not the mother of Trigg.

Palin deserves thanks for standing up for my values and I am thankful.



Being President is not like being governor of Alaska in one sense. At the end of the campaign, Sarah’s enemies kept attacking, but she did not have any formal structure to defend her. She created a network eventually, but she was being overwhelmed with national-level attacks inside a structure meant for state of Alaska level issues.

I don’t think, therefore, that her “quitting” in Alaska can be compared to “quitting” as President (if she were elected). In fact, her resigning appears to be for the good of the state.

Of course, she also was able to “cash in” more easily on her fame . . . so motives, as always in fallen humanity, are mixed!

The more I read about the treatment of Palin after the election, the angrier I grow. She was treated unjustly and the “system” had no way of protecting a failed vice-presidential candidate from continued national scrutiny and attack. There really was no precedent for it.

Her cry of the heart about all of this is not “whining,” but her only way of getting justice and some peace. I hope this book makes her a packet and she goes on to do great things. The most disgusting thing about it all has been the exploitation of the young father of her grandchild.

Critics may say she “exploited” him by having him at the convention, but it seems to me that she offered him a gentleman’s way. She treated him with dignity and as part of the family. Every pol has their family at the conventions. Imagine if she had left him at home!

This young man’s life pattern is now so predictable that I can write the tabloid headlines of his fall. Palin “exploited him” alright: if he has listened to her, he would be married to a beautiful young lady, a proud dad, and working to finish school and starting college. Instead his new “friends” are putting him in pin up poses and sucking his brain dry for any stories that can be used to hurt his baby’s grandmother.

The baby will grow up to read the stories.

It would be a Greek tragedy if there were a hero at the center and not some poor mixed up Alaskan boy who did the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person.

The Palin family deserves every bit of money they make on this book.

Sadly, the Presidency is not a consolation prize. The flaw of this book is that it begins to describe a righteous cause that goes beyond grievance, but it fritters away its intellectual energy in errors, bad arguments, and bromides.

In Palin the medium appears to be the message, but the medium is listening to no voice save her own instincts.

Chapter Six

Here at last I will get to read the Palin agenda for the future. If she is going to run for President, here is her manifesto . . . but there are too few pages left for that.

Here at least I will get a glimpse of what she wants for the nation. I will not demand too much of this chapter and will hope that at long last I can see the glimmers of a plan, a platform, a plausible path to the White House.

Of course, if she is not running for office, or even considering it, then I am demanding too much. The last chapter, however, was fill with indications she wants more. She quit to get her message out after all. As I have already said, that seems valid.

Now here at last is a summary of her message.

This is starting very well. Her appeal and explanation of tradition and of the constrained vision is well-written and succinct. It is also tied into a broad and defensible philosophical tradition. Woo! Hoo!

Here at last is a promising start at a platform that is neither Wall Street sycophant or UC Berkeley pandering.

I like the bit about free markets, but there is no bridge to connect it to tradition. This creates an obvious tension. It can be resolved, but Palin has not resolved it. Are market values the highest values? What of graft and corruption? What of the interface between big business and big government?

There is plenty to say about this, but Palin does not even give us a transition paragraph to show that she is aware of the tension between market forces and tradition.

Palin hammers effectively at the corruption in both parties. She is right that the GOP squandered its small government legacy, but she takes a pass on putting any of the blame on Bush. Perhaps it is just as well, since that decent man has received enough blows from his critics to last a lifetime. We all know what she means.

Sigh.

It would have been better to say absolutely nothing about foreign policy than to say nothing in a few paragraphs. This reads like a throw away paragraph in a domestic policy speech given in haste to a Rotary Club.

You know this chapter is upsetting to me for a simple reason. I know hundreds of under-thirty men and women who could write a better eleven pages than this off the top of their heads. Palin was given a platform of great promise with this book . . . she was going to sell hundreds of thousands of copies no matter what she wrote . . . and she gave us a final chapter less structured and less insightful than blog posts I have read from students during the election.

The problem is not the brevity of the chapter or its simplicity. It is that after a promising start it becomes vague and without a trace of going rogue. It is conventional GOP campaign fodder without a trace of a new idea. Tell us where to cut. Tell us what not to spend. Tell us anything specific to go with the generalities.

O.K.

If you tell me this chapter is meant to rouse us, then as rhetoric it is also an epic fail. Here there is no passion, no blood throbbing with the excitement of a new day, or a call to national greatness. Here is a complaint and a justifiable pique, but not even a full throat howl of rage. This is is weak tea as a rousing Saint Crispen’s Day speech.

This chapter is too thin to be nourishing and too homely to be inspiring. A Bill Buckley at such a moment would have given us a lesson and taught us something. A Henry V would have rallied the troops with passionate rhetoric to win the day.

Palin had the chance to Buckley or to Henry V, but instead she twittered.

She wants us to stand and fight and many of us are ready for such a call, but she does not tell us in enough specifics where to stand and what to fight. It would be, perhaps, acceptable if we were already at Agincourt with enemy ahead, but even then the rhetoric fails. It is not moving. It is not authentic. It is not bit roguish, but it is rougish . . . the appearance of health covering up the absence.

In Summary: Ten Things I Learned From Reading Going Rogue

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,  though Reagan had help writing it 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. You only shame yourself by appending Googled spuriou slogans assigned to philosophers to your previous views.

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 it is not the fact that this is no dissertation.

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.

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