Going Rogue

AKIE BERMISS: For me, Going Rogue was easily the most anticipated book of the year.  Why?  Because the book, like its subject, is a game changer.  After reading it, I’m not yet sure if it classified as an auto-biography, historical fiction, or just a YA follow-up to Jack London’s Call Of The Wild.  I can this for certain, however: I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

And you can too!

There are few things you’ll have to contend with before you can enjoy this here book, though.  First, let go of your preconceived notions of all things Palin.  If you’re like me — someone who really can’t stand her — you have to just let yourself go.  She’s just too damned likable.  Howard will probably disagree with me on this, but now that (for the immediate future) she is mostly-harmless, she’s just a wonderful folksy character.  The first half of the book reads like cheap knock-off, Alaskan version of the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels (books I read and re-read throughout my childhood).  Its all snowy landscapes, hunting, big-time fishing, and pioneer families trying to survive through cold, dark, unbearable winters.  If you’re able to a) separate the main character from the Sarah Palin we know and hate, b) get into that early adolescent frame of mind where coming-of-age stories can enthrall you, and c) block out the terrible folk-isms that rear up every couple of pages — if you can do all that — you’re going to enjoy the first 100 or so pages immensely.

Then it gets a little harder.  When she starts talking about running for City Council and Mayor and Lt. Governor… well, then its much more difficult to disregard all the horrible events of last autumn. But with a little effort, you may find yourself rooting for Palin-the-underdog.  I was!

And, to be completely honest, its kind of a fascinating story.  Even if you take into account how unprepared she was for a national campaign, it is still incredible to read how she rose to power in Alaska.  How, from her perspective, she was just a concerned Mom and Alaskan who didn’t like how tough things were for her, her husband, and her growing family.  And, say what you will, growing up in Alaska in the 1970s is a pretty damned interesting.  And, if she were a better writer, this book might’ve been really interesting.  As it is, its not a great gem, but its still a remarkable and — let’s be honest — singular story.

Also, something else becomes clear.  For all her mediocrity as part of the McCain/Palin ticket (and, thus, her failure as a big-time politician on a country-wide level), she has been an astonishingly successful politician at the local level.  She most of her elections were won by pretty handy margins.  Either she is just terribly charming, or she’s got some serious brains and ambition up there somewhere. And forgetting or over-looking that (as concerned citizens) would be a grave error.  If we just sit back and assume that she will inevitably hoist herself by her own petard, we’re likely to be in for a rude awakening.

Another sign that Palin is on the rise?  Never have I read a book that was such a conversation starter.  I couldn’t walk two blocks holding it without being stopped to talk about Palin and then getting into it on abortion, Iraq, green energy, fossil fuels, Oprah, and whatever the latest Palin polls say.  I go sit in the cafe and within minutes someone is asking me why I’m reading the book.  I lied a few times about having to review preferring, in that instant, to have my questioners believe I was reading the book out my own desire to learn about Sarah Palin.  Some strange looks then, let me tell you.  And while the book did occasionally make me the talk of the bistro, it also had the opposite effect in some situations.  I found myself being somewhat ostracized on the train a number of times while reading the book.  Or, at least, surrounded by people who were staring at me by pretending not to be looking at me at all.

Simply the fact that everyone has a strong reaction to the book bodes well for Palin.  She’s making the rounds.  She is alive and kicking in our consciousnesses.  In some ways, many people I know feel more strongly about her than they do about Barack Obama.  And maybe I used to be one of those people (off and on, anyway) — but this book has changed all that.

Now I know how to relate to Sarah Palin.  She IS fascinating.  Remarkable, even.  Her story is original and compelling.  There’s just no getting around that.  And chances are, if she’d never gotten tangled up with the McCain campaign she might have become an even more remarkable person on her own.  But now she’s got the dark specter of that failed campaign to add to her experiences and she’s a free agent, writing books and taking names.  And coming to this conclusion was perhaps the greatest benefit of reading her book.  You’ve got to put Palin into perspective, and while the book tries to make her an icon, a movement, a martyr-minded matriarch of the common man — what it really does is show you just how human she is.  Nothing insurmountable.  She’s not the devil.  She’s not out to get you.  And she doesn’t WANT to ruin America.  She’s just Sarah Palin.  A self-made woman, mother, politician and leader who has had a remarkable journey so — but she nothing to lose sleep over.

On the other hand, the greatest danger of this book is how innocuously human she makes herself.  If an ardent liberal pragmatist like myself is finding her likable (even in an abstract and hypothetical past-tense sort of way) then its perfectly possible that this book could be Palin’s Dreams-of-My-Father book.  And, even if there’s no political foothold in plain sight, she can keep writing these mostly-harmless tomes until she becomes a serious cultural figure.  More than just a marginalized group’s pathos-holder.  She is in the pre-formative stages of a leap to the mainstream.  And once she gets there she will be a force to be reckoned with.

Easy does it, America.  We mustn’t be too over-bearing and worried — it could back-fire and, in a few years, turn Palin into the prodigal daughter we’ve convinced ourselves we need.  We also mustn’t get too friendly and familiar with her — that is how she likes to operate.  She’s just charming, nice, down-to-earth, hard-working.  And if you take that at face-value, there’s really nothing to hate.  And then she’ll have us right where she wants us.
Right now — the perfect balance has been struck.  She is dangerous, but not devastating.  She is annoying, but not crippling.  She is omnipresent, but not omnipotent.  Let her get her rocks off with the books and the interviews and the speeches and whatever else she has planned.  Just don’t turn your back on her — don’t let her out of your sight!

And, for the time being, we’re all going to be just fine.

HOWARD MEGDAL: I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get to read Going Rogue.

Look, my options were limited. For some reason, the publisher only would send a single copy to The Perpetual Post. I certainly wasn’t going to buy the book and put money in Sarah Palin’s Moosepurse. And the thought of going to the bookstore, spending the hours with Palin, hearing the outright falsehoods and self-justifications I knew about from reading the excerpts- well, it was just too much to ask of myself.

I know, I know- this makes me as bad as those who support her. Willing to tune out the scientific evidence behind global warming, the limitations of abstinence-only education (those limitations being- it doesn’t work), and so on- how can I criticize others when I won’t even take the time to hear her side?

In my defense, she doesn’t suffer from a lack of people hearing her side. Amazingly, though her current government platform is her role as Queen of Facebook, her pronouncements are often driving media narratives on things like health care. Death Panels- that was pure Sarah Palin. And not a single phrase in the rest of the endless health care debate has resonated as much.

As Akie said, I have feared Palin’s rise for a while now. Let America get used to you long enough, and any concerns about inexperience or competence vanish. By 2012, Palin will be a veteran presence in American political life- one who is beloved by a large portion of the population that determines the GOP nominee for President.

Can Sarah Palin, in an election where Barack Obama is shackled by a poorly-performing economy, manage to win the highest office in the land? All she needs is a narrative. And Going Rogue, if nothing else, provides her with one.

She’s got a long way to go. But as the polls indicate, her favorable/unfavorable ratings rose during this book tour. She’s on her way.

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