Saturday, December 05, 2009

Review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue

Going Rogue: An American Life
by Sarah Palin
HarperCollins, 413 pp., $28.99 ($14.50 at

Audio Version: abridged, read by the author, 8 hours, 7 CDs, $29.99 ($17.54 at

The first thing that stands out about this political autobiography is how well it flows.

The hardest reading for me was the first six pages which are written in somewhat lyrical prose. I’m more an ideas/action reader (a failing, I admit), and so I had to push my way through that. I knew that Governor Palin had Lynn Vincent helping her on the book. (p. 410) The first six page section was the only part of the book I had questions on as to primary authorship. That is until I heard the audio version of the book read by Palin. The phrasing not only flowed naturally from Palin but picked up speed and interest for me (lyrical, poetry-challenged reader that I am) as she spoke. This book presents Sarah Palin in her own voice.

There are other brief lyrical descriptions in the book (Sarah Palin loves nature), but the rest of the book’s 400 pages are written in the fast-paced, mostly upbeat, humor-sprinkled style of Palin's speeches that drew tens of thousands to hear her during the presidential campaign.

Going Rogue covers major events of Palin’s personal and political life, but isn’t a “Making of the President” fact-filled treatment. It's very personal in tone. Thus, the reader doesn’t just read about Palin’s life, but sees it in selected flashes through her eyes.

Going Rogue is divided into six chapters and an epilogue.

The first chapter covers Palin’s life up until her entry into politics. The reader gets to know Palin’s background, family and husband Todd’s family and Yupik Eskimo heritage.

The second chapter describes Palin's first election to the Wasilla city council, two terms as mayor, campaign for lieutenant governor, chairmanship of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and decision to resign from that position to effectively combat corruption within the commission.

In the third chapter Palin takes the reader through her election as the first woman governor and youngest governor of Alaska. Palin describes major accomplishments of her administration until being tapped as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Major accomplishments included Palin pushing the state legislature to enact a tough ethics reform bill. She shepherded through a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline bill (AGIA--Alaska Gasline Inducement Act) resulting in the “largest private-sector energy project in North American history”. Palin also crafted a new tax/incentive system (ACES–Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share) increasing Alaska's share of profits from the sale of state oil resources and also encouraging new exploration and development. Finally, Palin’s conservative fiscal philosophy led to pruning the state budget of unnecessary and sometimes pork-ridden appropriations and tripling the state savings account. All this in less than two years as governor.

The third chapter also presents the Palins’ personal challenge in learning that their son Trig would be born with Down syndrome. Palin traces some of her questions, thinking and growing love for Trig and for all special needs children and their families. This would culminate in Sarah Palin’s declaration in her convention speech,
“To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you have sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.” (p. 241)
The fourth chapter is the one most readers will buy the book for–-Palin’s account of her vice-presidential run. As only the second woman in U. S. history to be nominated as a major party’s VP candidate, Palin has given a historic account of the unique pressures and slings and arrows that women candidates face that men do not. On top of that is the additional layer of bias and hatred directed at Palin and, unconscionably, her family by some of the press as well as political opponents. All of this is treated in a fast-paced manner which tends to underplay its personal impact on Palin.

The chapter has some surprises. Some have contended this is primarily a political payback book, but Palin begins the chapter with some high praise for Campaign Manager Steve Schmidt (p. 212-216)--one of her supposed main payback targets.

A second surprise is the attention Palin paid to the people doing even very small jobs for the campaign. She noticed and appreciated people doing the day-to-day grunt work. As we all know, but too infrequently consciously recognize, day-to-day life runs smoothly or semi-smoothly only because lots of different people do their part. This is a refreshing change from the usual “big player” take on political life.

The fourth chapter also deals with the expected vice-presidential campaign issues: admiration for John McCain, political issues stressed in the campaign, the rock star size crowds Palin drew, the $150,000 campaign clothing expenditure and "going rogue" controversies, and the Katie Couric interview.

As to the Couric interview, Palin details some of the badgering, condescension and selective editing of the interview. The badgering and condescension claims are substantiated in part by some of the snippets CBS itself aired. Even in the highly edited version, Couric does re-ask questions after Palin has answered them. And Couric is caught on camera using the surprisingly unprofessional form of phrasing usually used only by parents with their children: “I’m just going to ask you one more time . . . .” Still, Palin owns up to mistakes in the interview:
“But I should not have let my irritation show. Doing so was disrespectful to viewers who had tuned in to the interview to decide how to cast their votes.” (p. 276)
It was a poor interview performance, but it’s clear both from Going Rogue’s phrasing and recent interviews how much Palin has grown over the last year in her ability to handle tough questions as well as the gotcha questions. Under grueling pressure Palin has matured personally and politically in the space of a year.

Chapter five describes Palin’s return to Alaska and last eight months as governor. It’s not a pretty story. Personal and political attacks continued. Attacks on Palin’s children, especially Bristol and Trig, continued. Frivolous ethics complaints and information requests proliferated. The press treated ridiculous ethics complaints (e. g., wearing a jacket with a logo on it) as serious news. Since Alaska ethics legislation did not provide for state funds and legal counsel to defend the governor against complaints, frivolous or not, the result was a half million dollars of personal legal debt for the Palin family.

The impact on state government was just as bad. The complaints and cascade of information requests tied up thousands of hours of state time and wasted $2 million of state money.
“These relentless time-sinks shook my staff’s confidence and forced us to question our every decision. Instead of concerning ourselves with legislation and problem solving, my staff had to worry, Will we get in trouble if I answer that reporter’s question? Will she get hit with another complaint if we speak out on an issue? I had to wonder, Will I be punished for wearing these clogs, or this label on my jeans today?” (p. 355)
So, Palin says she decided to go against standard political wisdom for her own political future and do what was best for Alaska. She resigned and turned the governorship over to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell.
“How would a lame-duck session benefit Alaskans? How would millions more in FOIAs and ethics complaints and lawsuits benefit Alaskans? I prayed hard because I knew that if I resigned, it might very well end any future political career.

But then I thought, This is what’s wrong with our political system. Too many politicians only consider their next career move. They don’t put the people they are serving first.

In the end, I decided, politically speaking, if I die, I die. I had to do the right thing.” (p. 377)
Palin's faith is key to understanding her ability to grow and even flourish despite crushing political and personal attacks from the press and political opponents.
"I had to stop walking for a second. I rarely stop. I sat down on the grass and prayed, 'God, thank You. Thank You for Your faithfulness . . . always seeing us through . . . I don't know if this chapter is ending or just beginning, but You do, so I hand it all over to You again. Thanks for letting me do that.' Then I thanked our Lord for every single thing we'd been through that year. I believed there was a purpose in it all." (p. 399)
This is apparently why, instead of crushing Palin and her family and sending them to some deep political and personal bunker, unbridled criticism and opposition have resulted in a book selling over a million copies in its first two weeks, a book tour with thousands of fans/supporters eager to meet a smiling, upbeat Palin at every stop, and an almost "stop the presses" attitude when Palin speaks (Hong Kong), writes on political issues (Facebook) or endorses political candidates (NY 23rd District).

The last chapter of Going Rogue presents a short summary of Palin’s conservative, common sense political philosophy. One of the more illuminating sections deals with her agreement with Thomas Sowell’s thesis in Conflict of Visions. In just five paragraphs Palin explains the core of Sowell’s contention that a deep difference of view on the perfectibility of human nature underlies the “unconstrained” political vision of liberals and the “constrained” view held by conservatives. (p. 385-386) This evidences Palin’s ability to communicate complex political and philosophical ideas in clear, concise terms understandable to average, non-political junkie Americans. It has a Reaganesque feel.

Going Rogue offers an intriguing portrait of one of the two most popular political figures of our time. Only Barack Obama has generated as much excitement, and we know where he ended up.

As an aside, I’ve heard one commentator say that Piper is the favored child because she’s mentioned so often in Going Rogue. I guess the same person would think Trig is the second favorite. People who say that seem to have forgotten what family life is like when there are kids of quite different ages. My extended family has kids from 7 to 26. We spend about 90% of our time talking about and taking pictures of the 7 and 9 year olds. It’s not that we love them more. There’s just a lot more to comment on in the lives of little kids who change almost from day to day and are much more likely to provide “cute” or “interesting” moments to share. Additionally, being the center of shared anecdotes and candid photo sessions is accepted a lot better by kids prior to their teenage and young adult years. Privacy concerns weigh as kids get older.

UPDATE: A review in the New York Times by Stanley Fish is the best literary review of Going Rogue I've read. Actually, it's the best review of any book I've read in a very long time. It uses the old gold standard of: structure, style and content. And it's extremely insightful to boot.


OregonGuy said...

I'm not as far along as you, but I had the same reaction to her first chapter. Then I started to read about Wasilla, and found my self "reading."

Why are people amazed that a journalism major writes well?

T. D. said...

Interesting that we had the same reaction to the first section. You must be an ideas/action reader too. :-)

I thought it all an amazingly smooth read, but the real page turner was the VP candidate section. But, then I knew most about that period of her life.

Did you see the Stanley Fish review in the NYT? ( It's one of the best reviews I've read of any work lately. It uses the old gold standard of reviewing: structure, style and content. Impressive.

Always good to have you come by, OG.