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    The Rogue Wore Ann Taylor

    I usually pass the trip back to my parents’ place with Japanese poetry or a book of crossword puzzles, but yesterday I did my patriotic duty and started reading Going Rogue. Finished late last night.

    Verdict: It’s a political memoir.

    Andrew Sullivan, whose mission in life is apparently to give continued currency to the old charge that homosexual men are freaked out by fecund, motherly women, has bizarrely characterized Palin this way:

    And once again, for Ann [Althouse]’s sake, here are the lies I mean. Go through them. See if you think they are Clintonian type parsings of the truth or artful political hedging or anything like what we find in most pols. They really are not. They are functions of delusion and a worldview that wants things to be a certain way and cannot absorb that they are not. If you find the slightest error or come across a fact that we should add to this list of current lies, please let us know. We want this list to be as accurate as Palin is delusional. We want to create some template of easily-accessible reality as some kind of guard against the fantasies and fabulisms of our post-modern and fundamentalist age.

    It’s extraordinary for Sullivan to be leveling that accusation, given his (ahem) fruitless obsession with the provenance of Trig Palin. (To my admittedly unkind amusement, Palin didn’t mention Sullivan’s name once in the book, IIRC, though she mentioned “The Atlantic” as the primary rumor mill related to her youngest child.) Talk about someone who wants something to be true when it plainly isn’t!

    But it’s also extraordinary to make the Clinton comparison he explicitly makes. The Clintons, after all, gifted the world with quotables about “what the meaning of is is” and the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” among many, many other moments that seemed to be pretty clear manifestations of not having a clear grasp on hard, objective realities. And many of the Palin “lies” Sullivan lists are of the he-said, she-said sort that politicians are, in fact, notorious for telling:

    “I didn’t know that photo shoot was going to be staged to make me look bad.”

    “Policy X is polling badly? Well, gosh, I never supported it!”

    “Policy Y has become a sleeper success? Well, gosh, I supported that from the very beginning, when it was principled and unpopular to do so!”

    “Of course, I’m trying to get lobbyists away from government. I didn’t hire that old friend of the family because he was a lobbyist; I hired him because he’s an industry expert!”

    If politicians stopped getting in front of cameras and saying that stuff, the nightly news could be shortened to five minutes.

    I’m not trying to wave away Palin’s distortions—she really does seem to be misrepresenting some things, perhaps from wishful but sincere misremembering or perhaps from political calculation. But the idea that there’s something special about how she goes about it is ridiculous, and Sullivan has spent enough time around DC to know that.

    Also, the literature major in me wonders just how the hell it became possible to be at once post-modern and fundamentalist, but that’s a topic for another day.

    The literature major in me further wishes that more of Palin’s feistiness had made it into Going Rogue, which was written in exactly the same voice as Living History, Dreams from My Father, and every other memoir by an upwardly-mobile politician I’ve ever read. The tone is resolutely even-tempered—now relaxing into humor for a childhood anecdote, now pulling taut into high seriousness when weighty decisions must be made—but never working itself in a satisfying, personality-specific froth. There’s the telling story about little Sarah’s first attempt to fly, after which she picked herself up, skinned knees and all, and kept right on walking toward her destination. There’s the telling story about her refusal to sit out the high school state basketball championship game despite her broken ankle. There are several telling stories about how a child’s interruption or need for a diaper change brought Palin back to Earth when she was getting too worked up over some policy abstraction.

    This is all according to recipe, and I don’t mention it to belittle Palin. Part of her image problem is that she’s seen as not having a clue about how to package herself articulately, and Going Rogue shows that she’s capable of doing exactly what an ambitious politician is supposed to do: get a good co-author and come up with a carefully formulated memoir that shows she has talent, self-reflection, and tenacity, implying along the way that becoming a political leader is pretty much her destiny. As a woman, Palin the would-be Political Force has an extra task: to prove that she’s a bitch but not a castrating bitch. She does a good job of it, casting her aggressive moves as “Mama grizzly” fierceness. She indicates that she’s equally at ease with a close group of girlfriends and with the men friends in her life. She talks about swooning (my word, not hers) for Todd’s macho-outlaw side.

    She also engages in much more self-criticism about her behavior during the 2008 campaign than early reports suggested, which is reassuring but is also where things get complicated for the reader who’s sizing up her political potential. I realize that Alaska is in many ways a world unto itself, but it’s hard to believe that anyone who’d been playing hardball politics in a state with such huge energy and federal-funding issues could have been so naive about what was in store for her when she joined McCain as his running mate. In a way, her attitude is charming. Unlike the jumped-up Barack “I’m so totally shaking hands with an emperor—this is so cool!” Obama, Palin really doesn’t come off as seduced by the trappings of her new environment. (She’s seduced by Theory trousers, though, a weakness with which I can empathize.)

    Nevertheless, the transition is seriously jarring. As governor of Alaska, she depicts herself as unafraid to shake up politics as usual even when told it could be political suicide. Then, in the blink of an eye, she’s meekly following the orders of louche, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, cynical campaign managers because she figures they know what they’re doing—and that’s when she’s not assuming that people acting all soulful must actually be sincere. How was it possible to be that unaware in 2008? A mere flip through Primary Colors at an airport bookstore sometime in the last fifteen years would have indicated that campaigns are governed by swarms of dictatorial consultants pushing their own agenda. And if Palin didn’t like the fictionalized format, she could always have paid attention to reports about the actual Clinton presidency, with its menagerie of pushy aides and hodge-podge of mixed messages. Or the Bush presidency. Or congress. Politics as an industry, like celebrity image-making and interior design, has been completely demystified over the last few decades. Palin says several times that she should have put her foot down about this or that disagreement with the campaign staff, but if there’s a passage in which she acknowledges that her overall instincts about the machine were bad, I missed it.

    That doesn’t make her stupid, which she clearly is not. But it does keep alive the central question of whether she has the right kind of smarts to use her “rogue” instincts to change the way the federal government does business. She’s good at sparring with high-profile figures, which is a useful role in and of itself. But working politics involves outmaneuvering entrenched, behind-the-scenes string-pullers, and she doesn’t seem to know much about that. Perhaps she can learn. Perhaps she doesn’t need to because she really isn’t contemplating a presidential run, though that strikes me as highly unlikely. But I’m not sure she even knows she needs to. (Twice she’s reacted to being red-taped by resigning.)

    And one final note: except for some non-specific references to Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” line, she seems to view geopolitics exclusively through the lenses of military readiness and fossil fuel access. Those are very important things, but they’re nowhere near a big-picture view.

    So my mind isn’t changed. I doubt many others’ will be, either. But if you’re not already heartily sick of the whole Palin-related flapdoodle, you might enjoy the latest diavlog between Ann Althouse and Michelle Goldberg, to which Sullivan alludes in the passage quoted above. Althouse encounters heavy weather in just trying to talk Goldberg down from her apparent belief that Palin is the embodiment of evil.

    Added after a sticky bun: BTW, if you need further evidence that the system really does need shaking up, here‘s how Eric spent his Saturday night.

    8 Responses to “The Rogue Wore Ann Taylor”

    1. Leslie says:

      I have sooo missed your posts, Sean!!! (And, yes, I’m one of the ones who checks in off and on; there may well be tons of us. Just sayin’.)

      Honestly, yours if the first sane, even-handed account I have read of Palin’s memoir. As for me, I like Sarah very much as a person. I think she’s done it all on her own and according to her own plan. Can’t help but respect that. And she seems, contra Sullivan, to be a genuinely warm person. But for president? Reality doesn’t seem to favor it. Doesn’t mean she couldn’t be helpful at something, perhaps even forging some compromise positions on the big issues (since she does have experience that and since both parties seem obsessed constantly with “doing something”). Can’t imagine the left allowing that to happen, though. Meanwhile, it seems to me, they’re a going-off-the-cliff train wreck, so who can definitively say what would and would not be better? …

    2. Eric Scheie says:

      Excellent post. I’m delighted to see you back, Sean!

    3. Sean says:

      Thanks, Leslie. I’m fine with a very select group of readers, rather than tons (which sounds kind of undiscriminating), even if the way I get there is posting things only a small number of people actually want to read. :) I agree, of course: I persist in thinking McCain-Palin was the better alternative last year, and I find it depressing the way so many of Palin’s defenders insist on bellowing, “But Obama’s just as bad!” whenever she’s criticized. Sure, he is, but that’s not the point. The point is that she’s got plenty to work on, and it’s not good for any politician to rise in the morning and retire in the evening knowing that there are a lot of people who will love her unconditionally. It’s a disincentive to self-criticism, and if there’s anything we don’t need from pols, it’s less self-criticism.

      And thanks to you, too, Eric. Heartburn-inducing as it can get, I did miss blogging regularly.

    4. PG says:

      I totally agree with you that Sullivan is making a fool of himself with his obsession over Trig’s parentage. If he’s so attached to facts and science, perhaps he could look into the unlikelihood of a 16-year-old’s having a baby with Down’s Syndrome (particularly compared to the likelihood for a woman in her 40s), and then having *another* baby 8 months later. I don’t think gay men have any particular hostility toward fecundity/motherhood, but they do get to opt out, to a certain extent, in learning some basics of female fertility.

      I’m puzzled by the persistent comparisons of “Going Rogue” to “Dreams From My Father.” People seem to be under the erroneous impression that Dreams was first published in 2004, when that was actually the re-issue after Obama’s well-received speech at the Democratic convention. In fact, Obama was approached to write a book about his life while he was still in law school, after his name was in the papers for being elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He took some time to write it, but it still was published in 1995 before he’d even run for the Illinois State Senate.

      There were no “weighty decisions” about policy for Obama to describe in Dreams; in the timespan he described (which ended even before his starting at Harvard Law), the biggest decisions he had to make that would affect anyone other than himself were about how to do his community organizing job. Because he was given a book contract based on his having some sort of unusual life story — not because he was a household name — he was obligated to show more of the dark side of himself and his life: his drug use; his absentee, alcoholic father; his struggle with his identity as a biracial man. There’s none of that in Palin’s book; her self-criticism is only for her naivete (i.e. it was always ultimately other people’s fault).

      (BTW, about the bow to the emperor — Bush Sr. bowed to the prior emperor, along with many other heads of state, when they attended his funeral.)

    5. Sean says:

      PG, the only comparison I was making was one of tone—I read the book a while ago and don’t pretend to remember the details—and I find it hard to believe that that would be much different if Obama were to write it today. As far as the comparison you draw goes, given that Palin was reared by still-married parents, perhaps never did any drugs, and isn’t biracial, I’m not sure how she can be expected to be all introspective about such things. (She does mention Todd’s being biracial, and she talks some about the tension between modernization and Inuit tradition, but she doesn’t give the impression that he or their children have gone through any Julie of the Wolves-ish identity crises.) I’m also not sure what makes you think criticizing oneself for being naive is the same as blaming others for one’s own missteps. It’s certainly possible to say, “Here’s what I would have known to do differently if I’d been wiser.” And from the opposite direction, thinking on the order of “It’s daddy’s fault for not being there” and “It’s society’s fault for making me struggle with my identity” is very frequently a blame-shifting maneuver.

      Additionally, I didn’t say Obama was the first president to bow to any foreign leaders, certainly not those in the Far East. I’m sure Bush I looked silly, too. OTOH, his foreign policy program wasn’t predicated on apologetic nice-making, so people were probably less tempted to see a bow on his part as a gesture of favor-currying.

    6. Robohobo says:

      Sean said:

      “…which was written in exactly the same voice as Living History, Dreams from My Father…”

      Bill Ayers ghost-wrote for Palin also?

      As far as Sullivan is concerned, I think the guy is mentally unbalanced. Some kind of dementia? And the obsession with who is Trig’s mother? Well, D’Uh Oh!, Andy-boy, it’s ……. Sarah!

      Also:

      “….it does keep alive the central question of whether she has the right kind of smarts to use her “rogue” instincts to change the way the federal government does business.”

      True enough but limited. She does have the “right stuff” put together right to be one of the leaders. Most of Middle America is just about sick of the coastal elites who have not one frakkin’ clue to what the rest of us in flyover country think and believe. We are mighty tired of the Ivy League and Blue City elite looking down their noses at us.

      Tree, rope, tar, feathers and/or 223. Some assembly required.

      Good, I came here looking for your take on The Won’s bow to Akihito. Followed the link. I liked this take:

      “Foreigners are not expected to bow, as they lack the requisite knowledge of the elaborate etiquette governing this for at least 1000 years.

      This BHO bow, because of its degree of declination and the shamefully rounded back, is in Japanese eyes the bow of a crippled toilet attendant to his supreme master.
      Posted by: Takuan Seiyo”

      Also, it looked to me like the poor Emperor was highly embarrassed. What is your take?

    7. Sean says:

      Robohobo:
      “True enough but limited. She does have the ‘right stuff’ put together right to be one of the leaders. Most of Middle America is just about sick of the coastal elites who have not one frakkin’ clue to what the rest of us in flyover country think and believe. We are mighty tired of the Ivy League and Blue City elite looking down their noses at us.”

      Fair enough, but bear in mind that, while I grew up in working-class PA, I live in NY and have an Ivy League degree. I don’t like seeing my friends and colleagues dismissed based on demography any more than I like seeing my family elders dismissed based on demography from the opposing direction. There are plenty of big-government types who went to heartland state schools, and there are plenty of graduates of hoity-toity private schools who work in the private sector and are adamant against interventionist, overreaching government.

      In any case, I don’t think that Palin’s anti-establishment political orientation is really up for dispute. What’s up for dispute is whether she has the mettle and the specific kind of smarts to make inroads into the nuts and bolts of Washington power-broking. Perhaps she’ll be content to be a party rainmaker and grey eminence; I think she’d do a great job at that, and it would mean that assessing her preparedness for the presidency would be unnecessary. But if she’s thinking of the White House, that’s different from being “one of the leaders.” That’s being the leader. I’m not convinced she can do it. If she shows she can, I’ll be happy to vote for her ticket (again). But she’s got developing to do.

      I thought Emperor Akihito had his game face on, and yes, he probably thought President Obama was overdoing the be-nice-to-important-Japanese-people act. I’ve never been in a position to witness any interactions between a crippled toilet attendant and his supreme master, but yes, the commenter you cite is correct that Obama has the form all wrong. Keeping the back stiff as a breadboard and bending at the waist as if it were a gate hinge is something you get used to in Japan; inclining oneself like a shrimp waiting to be slung over a cocktail-sauce dish is unappealing and wrong.

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