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11.25.09

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Phaedra

PANTS ON FIRE: Sarah Palin gets creative with the truth in her new tell-all.

Palin Around

In 'Going Rogue,' Sarah Palin puts her own spin on everything, including the facts

By Geoffrey Dunn


IT'S BEEN a rather tawdry week of Sarah Palin mania as the former governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee has taken to the Lower 48 to promote her highly anticipated memoir, Going Rogue, which was written with evangelical co-author Lynn Vincent--though you won't see that rather significant fact included anywhere on the cover or even on the book's title page. It's actually buried deep in the book's acknowledgments, well after Palin thanks herself.

And that just about sums up Going Rogue. It's one big lie from its glitzy Photoshopped cover to the very final page. Republican operatives who have worked with Palin from the Mat-Su Valley in Alaska to the John McCain campaign have lined up calling Palin's "memoir" a work of "fiction."

McCain has even gotten into the act himself by admonishing Palin for her deceptions about a $50,000 bill she claimed she got stuck with for her "vetting." And the fact is, despite Palin's duplicitous assertions to the contrary in Going Rogue, she was really never fully vetted. At best it was rushed; at worse, it was a con job. Either way, someone apparently got stuck with a helluva bill for nothing.

In spite of Palin's well-earned reputation as a fluff muffin, Going Rogue soared to the top of all the major bestseller lists months before its official publication. Those in conservative circles have triumphantly compared her memoir to those written by Barack Obama in advance of his run for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency. Make no mistake about it: Dreams From My Father or The Audacity of Hope this is not.

With all the incumbent hype, one might have expected that Going Rogue would have risen above many of the petty and even vicious traits that Palin exhibited on the campaign trail last fall revving up the GOP faithful with incendiary attacks on Obama. Instead, Going Rogue sinks even further into Palin's unique brand of narcissism and victimhood. She remains an unapologetic warrior in our country's culture wars and one of the most divisive and polarizing politicians of our time.

While not nearly as garbled as some of Palin's more memorable "word salads" (so delightfully parodied by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live), Going Rogue is both uneven in its composition and erratic in its argumentation. It's clear the good governor has no sense of chronology. Moreover, the book was obviously rushed to publication in order to take advantage of holiday sales and to beat more critical books to the marketplace. It has no index, no footnotes, no bibliography, not even any cover blurbs. It's the literary establishment's version of a quickie.

The Palin portrayed in Going Rogue is surprisingly unlikable. She is vengeful, mean-spirited and spiteful--and this in a narrative she has crafted herself. She takes cheap shots at the likes of Michelle Obama, John Kerry and Alec Baldwin, and describes Katie Couric as "the lowest-rated news anchor in network television" and blames Couric for the failures of her widely mocked interview with her.

The character that emerges from Going Rogue is also remarkably shallow. This past summer, bloggers in Alaska reported rumors that there was marital discord in the Palin household and, perhaps, a pending divorce. Palin's response is simply to say that she looked over at her husband, Todd, "tanned and shirtless," his "blue eyes smiling," and thought "Dang ... divorce Todd? Have you seen Todd?" End of discussion. Palin just can't seem to get below the surface.

Much has been made already of Palin's celebrated battles with McCain's senior advisers, most notably Sacramento-based Steve Schmidt, during the rough-and-tumble dog days of the national campaign. Palin's version of events, however, goes counter to much of the readily documented evidence. For instance, Palin tries to shed any semblance of responsibility for her role in the humiliating prank call by a comedian posing as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and claims in the aftermath that Schmidt telephoned her, screaming angrily, "How can anyone be so stupid?!"

Those who were on the bus with Palin at the time, however, contend that the Schmidt phone call never happened. An email produced by the campaign provides evidence that Schmidt's response was far more tempered than Palin would have us believe. Moreover, Palin protects the real culprit in this event, Steve Biegun, because he has remained her political ally. Schmidt, for his part, has called Palin's rendition of the campaign "total fiction."

For a more honest and balanced portrait of Palin's performance last fall, readers can turn to Sarah From Alaska by Shushannah Walshe and Scott Conroy (Public Affairs; 320 pages; $26.95), a pair of enterprising young television reporters who were embedded in Palin's plane during the campaign. Although they bend too far backward to be "evenhanded" with Palin (they rather sophomorically assert that Palin is "a truly likable person"), they nonetheless note her "tendency to refuse to acknowledge any error in judgment and to offer instead a version of events that could easily be proved false." It's a polite way of saying that Palin lies incessantly, let the facts be damned.

There are a handful of insightful and honest reflections in Going Rogue, such as when Palin discusses her miscarriages, the birth of her son Trig (who has Down syndrome), and her daughter Bristol's teen pregnancy. But even these moments are absent of real emotional gravitas.

What's astonishing is that Palin has absolutely no clue as to where she fits into American political traditions and the current Republican zeitgeist. That is left to the brilliant political parody Going Rouge, edited by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed (OR Books; 336 pages; $16). Rouge includes more than 50 essays on Palin by an all-star array of contributors, including Gloria Steinem, Rebecca Traister, Katha Pollitt and Max Blumenthal.

Going Rogue might have marked Palin's moment of advancing her career beyond the series of car crashes that defined her rocky candidacy last fall and her failed governorship of the Last Frontier. Instead, it is a retreat to the evangelical netherworld that fuels her personal ambitions. Going Rogue is short on political vision and long on self-promotion. It would have been more aptly subtitled An American Lie.


GOING ROGUE: AN AMERICAN LIFE by Sarah Palin, with Lynn Vincent; HarperCollins; 413 pages; $28.99 hardback. For a limited time Bookshop Santa Cruz is giving away a bag of Sarah Palin's Just Plain Nutz with each copy sold.

Geoffrey Dunn's book 'The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power' will be released by St. Martin's Press in April 2010.


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