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BOOK REVIEW : Politics of resentment : The Sarah Palin autobiography assigns plenty of blame but doesn't give much credit where it's due. / Going Rogue; An American Life; Sarah Palin; HarperCollins: 413 pages; $28.99

November 17, 2009|Tim Rutten

A particularly shrewd political analyst once remarked that Ronald Reagan's great strength as a candidate was that he was "a sincere phony." In the world of electoral realpolitik, that's a compliment.

What the analyst meant was that Reagan had the ability to convince himself that he actually held expedient views he'd never previously entertained and that belief, in turn, allowed him to speak of them with utter conviction. Thus, the governor who'd signed the nation's most permissive abortion-rights statute became the resolutely pro-life president.

Sarah Palin's autobiography -- "Going Rogue: An American Life" -- suggests that while she may be overreaching when she aspires to the Great Communicator's mantle as leader of the conservative movement, she may well be able to claim his facility for convenient sincerity.

Take, for example, the matter of this book's authorship. It's customary for politicians and celebrities to collaborate with a professional writer on books like this, particularly when they're produced on a tight deadline, as "Going Rogue" was, and the publisher has a multimillion-dollar advance on the table, as Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins reportedly does with this volume. However, the name of Palin's collaborator -- the evangelical Christian writer and pro-life activist Lynn Vincent -- doesn't appear on the cover of "Going Rogue." Collaborators sometimes trade such credits for higher fees, but their names usually appear prominently in the acknowledgments.

Palin's first acknowledgment goes to . . . herself: "I'm very glad this writing exercise is over. I love to write, but not about myself. I'm thankful now to have kept journals about Alaska and my friends and family ever since I was a little girl. That practice allowed an orderly compilation over the past weeks and let me summarily wrap up at least some of my life so far . . . "

Three paragraphs later, after she's thanked her lawyer Robert Barnett and five HarperCollins executives and editors, Vincent's name is mentioned with several others. (At least she made it before the thanks to flight attendants, "Big Dipper Construction" and "everyone who values good customer service.")

It's an interesting reticence because Vincent's previous books include a biography of Gen. William Boykin, who created a firestorm for injecting too much Christianity into the war on terror, and an account of the Democratic Party designed to show that its "true history" is "a tale of dishonesty, crime and corruption." Vincent reportedly was selected for this job in large part for her ability to connect with evangelical Christians, and they won't be disappointed to find that Palin discerns "God's hand" and a divine purpose in nearly every turn of her life, including her tenure in Wasilla, Alaska's city hall.

Actually, the hand most obviously working throughout "Going Rogue" is Vincent's. The narrative is sprinkled with literary and philosophical references that one somehow doubts sprang from the copious pages of Palin's diaries, including the role of Blaise Pascal's philosophy in her girlhood conversion from Catholicism to Evangelical Protestantism. Similarly, the opening sequence includes a visit to the Right to Life booth at the Alaska State Fair, where one of the items on sale is a poster featuring Palin's daughter Piper dressed as an angel. (It's hard to recall any politicians in recent memory who have used their children as props quite as frequently as Palin.)

More than half the book deals with Palin's life before the last presidential campaign, so there's a lot of winter, guns, fish guts, long hours at the nets under the midnight sun and a great deal about Palin's fondness for meat, particularly caribou and moose. There's even a photo of her father teaching her to skin a harbor seal, an activity the caption informs is now forbidden for all but native peoples under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Ah, for the good old days.

When he ran a London restaurant, the late chef Keith Floyd used to keep a bowl of split shot in the kitchen, and would drop a couple lead pellets into the game birds he sent out. It gave his patrons a kind of thrill to discover them on their plates, evoking as they did a shivering, slight suggestion of the hunt. "Going Rogue" has more than a few pieces of rhetorical split shot scattered through the narrative.

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