Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review: Sarah Palin, Going Rogue (2009)

Sarah Palin, Going Rogue: An American Life (HarperCollins: New York, 2009)

I wasn't sure whether I was going to like Sarah Palin's autobiography or not.  Having finished it, I'm still not sure.

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Palin came to (inter)national prominence with her nomination as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.  Since then she's bobbed about on the political scene as a speaker and talking head, but not as a candidate.  Her 2008-and-after career, however, is a little misleading. It distracts from her time as a competent and effective governor of Alaska.  This is fundamentally the puzzle with this book.  Slightly over half covers her early life, the start of her political career, and governorship of Alaska. This part is genuinely interesting.  The discussion of the process of reforming the oil industry is a gift for a policy wonk, taking in issues of revenue, royalties, land use and resource planning.

It's less easy to like the discussion of her time as a Vice Presidential nominee.  This section of the book feels remarkably disjointed, as if each episode were remembered and written down separately and then copied and pasted into more-or-less chronological order.  It may be that Ms Palin did write this section that way: the book came out in 2009 - the year after the election - and the memories may still have been a bit raw.  It's also possible that it reflects the McCain campaign itself.  The presidential and vice presidential wings of the campaign seem to have barely communicated with each other, resulting in the latter learning about (say) the decision to abandon Michigan from the morning news.  More seriously, the professional campaign staff seem to have decided to retain a tightly controlled message which meant they could not effectively utilise Palin's skills as a grassroots campaigner.  One must, of course remember that this is Palin's side of the story and (like every political writer since Thucydides) there will always be a temptation to set the record crooked on key points.  That said, the impression from the book matches my recollection from the time. That is, the McCain-Palin campain was poorly organised and wasted the opportunities it had to finesse a win from an already difficult hand.

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The style is folksy throughout and I'm not sure how much was ghostwritten.  This becomes a little tiresome after a time (the phrase "commonsense conservative" is used ad nauseam).  It also rather does Palin a disservice: one has the impression of a competent backwoods politician out of her depth at a national level - a kind of Alaskan Joh Bjelke-Petersen, with none of Bjelke-Petersen's ruthlessness or strength of personality.

This book is useful as a record of a time.   Not everything in it is sound, but it will repay reading by students of the art of campaigning.

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