Sarah Palin is running for president. At least, that is the conclusion that leaps from the pages of her mawkish and mendacious blockbuster book. Going Rogue: An American Lifeis an extended justification of her performance in the 2008 election and an attempt to claim her crown as queen of the tea partiers. Palin and her ghostwriter, Lynn Vincent, do an expert job of weaving an alternate reality in which Palin's only mistakes lay in her deference to the cynical Washington insiders surrounding John McCain and in her underestimation of the viciousness of liberal elites. It positions her as the tribune of authentic Americans writhing under the bootheel of the subversive cabal that has captured the White House and concludes with a chapter that looks a lot like a campaign manifesto.
By now, even those who have tried to ignore Palin's re-emergence at the center of public life probably know the gist of Going Rogue. Various bloggers have catalogued its lies and evasions, though it's so rich in both that I kept finding new ones that I hadn't seen others pick up on yet. For example, on pages 246 and 247, Palin cites a sympathetic Investors Business Daily editorial that "laid out the key facts" about the various misdeeds of her ex-brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten, "including hunting wild game illegally -- a big deal in Alaska, where people ethically harvest game to eat."
In fact, the right-wing Investors Business Daily was simply quoting Palin and her father, Chuck Heath, on this and other charges. And the charge itself is a fraud -- a minor one but one that illuminates Palin's deceptive modus operandi. An investigation by the State Troopers, sparked by a tip from the Palins, revealed that, during the incident in question, Wooten had been out hunting with his then-wife, who had a "highly coveted" permit to kill a cow moose. When they finally saw one, she didn't want to shoot it, so he did. According to Wooten, Health himself did most of the butchering. It wasn't until years later, during Wooten's ugly divorce from Palin's sister, that the Palins filed a complaint against their former relative for this crime.
Untangling these sorts of trivial deceptions is a tedious business. There is actually something sort of brilliant about the way Going Rogue cobbles blithe untruths into a solid-seeming structure that takes lots of time, energy, and patience to disassemble. That's why it will prove so effective as propaganda -- like creationism or the 9/11 Truth movement, you can't engage with it unless you're willing to sort through lots of recondite facts about, say, the structure of the optic nerve or the melting point of steel.
There should be no doubt that campaign propaganda is exactly what Going Rogue is. In the book, Palin goes out of her way to throw literal red meat to her base. "I always remind people from outside our state that there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals -- right next to the mashed potatoes," she writes early on. On page 2, there's a scene of her encountering the Alaska Right to Life booth at a state fair and noting that her daughter, Piper, is featured on their poster.
She channels all the resentments and suspicions of the conservative grass roots: "On the campaign trail many had been hesitant to talk about legitimate fears that Obama's past comments and associations with anti-capitalist radicals would influence his economic policy," she writes. "The press gave the impression that it was the wrong thing to do. … I wish we had talked more about them, and about Obama's close relationship with ACORN, the voter-fraud specialists."
The last chapter of her book is titled "The Way Forward," and it reads a lot like a campaign document, full of platitudes about turning the economy around with free-market solutions. Naturally, it's rife with inaccuracies: On page 391, she writes, "Ronald Reagan faced an even worse recession. He showed us how to get out of one. If you want real job growth, cut capital gains taxes and slay the death tax once and for all." Every single thing about these sentences is wrong. The current recession is far worse than the one Reagan faced. As the Associated Press pointed out, Reagan never repealed the estate tax -- what Palin calls the "death tax" -- and capital-gains taxes were higher during his administration than they are now.
But from a campaign point of view, such inaccuracies may not matter. Palin is positioning herself as the Club for Growth candidate, championing the ideologically comforting notion that Republicans have failed because they betrayed their principles, not because their principles failed the country.
Before she can be a credible prospect for 2012, though, Palin has to convince a critical mass of conservative voters that her stumbles in 2008 weren't her fault and that resigning as governor wasn't an act of abdication. And so she attempts to make it all the fault of the liberal media. "Every action we took -- or didn't take -- was fodder for the national media," she writes. "It was a pathetic and chilling thing to watch because I knew we weren't the first this has happened to, and won't be the last -- until Americans say enough." Supporting Palin becomes a way of sticking it to a supercilious press.
According to Palin, only one commentator had the correct take on her motives for leaving the governorship: Mary Matalin. So it's worth revisiting what Matalin actually said. On July 3, Matalin told CNN that Palin had made "a brilliant move," because "she will be freed up and liberated in the way Mitt Romney is here to run around and raise money and get political chips by spending it and get political capital." Matalin's analysis was totally focused on Palin's prospects in 2012. That seems to be what Palin is thinking about too.
On the last page of her story, she writes about what's next for her -- "God doesn't drive parked cars," she says. The last line is a reference to the campaign flap that ensued when McCain pulled out of Michigan, and Palin lamented the decision on air. "I'm thinking when I get back I'll bake the kids a cake," she writes. "And I'll pull out a road map -- I want to show Piper the way to Michigan."
We've been warned.
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