GOING ROGUE

Posted in Rants on November 17th, 2009 by Ed

(To answer your question in advance, I owe early access to the text to blind luck, persistence, and a helpful friend in the industry who demands anonymity. Cross-posted at the Putz.)

Following American politics for the last two decades (and teaching about it for the last six years) I often feel like our political spectacles have taken on the air of an elaborate Dadaist performance piece, with each "Tea Party," Fox News segment, and Republican Savior more egregiously blurring the lines between reality, farce, and surrealism. We watch each Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal speech fully expecting Ashton Kutcher to appear and let us in on the joke, informing America that it has in fact been punk'd and laughing uproariously at our gullibility. Our collective capacity for credulity has been strained to breaking.

Now we are faced with the daunting task of wrapping our minds around the Palin memoir Going Rogue, appearing atop a bestseller list near you. Millions of copies will be sold of a book written by someone who can't write, intended for an audience that doesn't read, about the thoughts of a person who doesn’t think. God is dead.

If you are in a hurry, here is the succinct version of this review: Going Rogue is shit. It is groundbreaking in its banality and disregard for facts. If you are sentient, it will pain you to read it. Imagine watching your parents 69 one another while John Madden sits behind you and bellows out color commentary and you will have some idea of how excruciating and profoundly scarring it is to plow through each page of this wholly fictional monument to self-aggrandized mediocrity. Going Rogue is to the art of writing what the Holocaust is to the concept of a just God – the piece of disconfirming evidence so overwhelming that we are left questioning whether it can exist at all.

Going Rogue is not without merit. It certainly delivers what its intended audience wants. Readers who already like Palin will love it, much as America's pedophiles will find the latest Jonas Brothers DVD to their liking. The authors' talent for communicating the ex-Governor's unique rhetorical style in print is remarkable – the Sesame Street cadence of her delivery and the intermittent Tourette's-like winks leap off the page. The book, recession priced at just $9, is also an ideal gift for the Aunt or Uncle who assaults your email inbox with a dozen weekly communiqués on the President's Kenyan birth and the constitutionality of income taxes.

Unfortunately that is an exhaustive list of its strengths.

The book is less a biography than an elaborate press release. Its 432 pages (with sixteen pages of pictures – and no index) barely feign interest in describing Palin’s life in detail. It moves as quickly as possible to its real raison d'être – a methodical re-imagining of her entire political career replete with more excuses than a Cleveland Browns post-game press conference. Palin has never done anything wrong. The public have merely been led to believe that she is a dangerously stupid, erratic narcissist. Going Rogue is all about setting that record straight, offering a wildly implausible excuse for every crash and bang in her train wreck of a political career.

The theme that permeates the book – and with all the subtlety of an Oliver Stone film – is Palin's overwhelming magnanimity. The book itself was written solely for our benefit, to set straight all of our misconceptions. Her Hindenburg interview with Katie Couric was done only because Palin pitied the struggling journalist (no mention of how her personal generosity forced her to answer simple questions like a lobotomized rube who had never ventured beyond Wasilla). Her hillbilly-wins-the-Lotto shopping sprees and misuse of Alaska taxpayers’ funds to take her daughters on vacations in $3000 per night hotels either never happened (er, she "usually" eschewed lavish accommodations for simple ones) or were forced upon her by others; McCain aides practically held a gun to her head and made her buy a new wardrobe. She resigned the governorship halfway through her only term for the benefit of the people of Alaska (admittedly she may be onto something there). Her enormous legal bills stem from frivolous ethics complaints by her enemies, and she has borne these costs for you – out of the kindness of her heart. Buying her book and electing her to the presidency is the least you can do in return, ingrate.

A serious question arises from her narrative. Is she a sociopath with a messiah complex – i.e. she actually believes the version of events she relates here – or is she simply a shameless liar? Does she honestly fail to realize that the McCain team was bending over backwards to protect her from her own stupidity when she rails on about how they abused, demeaned, and stifled her? Does she honestly believe it when she describes herself as someone who "wouldn’t stand for" a conflict of interest from a public servant, or does she consciously sit down at the keyboard and say, "I think I"m gonna make some shit up here!" with the intention of burnishing her image?

It is not coincidental that everyone – and we can use that term without hyperbole – involved with the McCain campaign and not named "Sarah Palin" has already lambasted this book as, variously, "pure fabrication," "other worldly," "blatantly and absolutely inaccurate," "total fiction," and "a serious mixing of truth and imagination." These charges would be predictable from liberal opponents, but they come from fellow Republicans. That is the shocking and crass aspect of this book. It is petty, vindictive, and reads like Palin was checking names off of her Nixonian enemies list one by one as she wrote, and the targets of her limitless bile are almost exclusively other Republicans. Barely a word is uttered of President Obama or his campaign aside from some factually errant potshots at his policies – including the "bailout" legislation signed by George W. Bush, underscoring Palin's slavish attention to detail. Nary an insult is leveled at Obama, Biden, or other Democrats on a personal level, something that cannot be said for Steve Schmidt and the rest of the McCain team. Schmidt may have seemed to the rest of us like a salty, dumpy campaign pro desperately trying to maintain order in a campaign that, thanks to Palin, skirted the line between chaos and comedy – half Ringling Brothers circus, half Triangle Shirtwaist fire. But Palin once again sets straight the record, depicting Schmidt throughout as a profane, hysterical misogynist hell-bent on destroying her and, she bizarrely claims, forcing her to abandon the Atkins Diet.

Going Rogue is many things, but it is not a good biography. It is a fantastic work of fiction and therefore not totally undeserving of commercial success. Every autobiography – be it from a political aspirant or the latest WWE superstar – massages the truth to some degree. Abraham Lincoln once called tact the art of describing others as they see themselves. This book proves that there is not enough tact in the world for a person with even the most tenuous grip on reality to describe Sarah Palin as she sees herself. If this is her attempt at positive spin, it is cynical and petty. If, on the other hand, she believes a single word of this, she is psychologically unfit to run for dog catcher let alone President of the United States.

In short, the book provides ample proof that Sarah Palin's version of her own life is like the Turkish government's version of the Armenian Genocide – and approximately as trustworthy. Going Rogue is an irritatingly vernacular, fantastical, and cloying autobiography of a malignant narcissist, every bit as thunderingly stupid throughout as the person behind it. In what world is it either necessary or desirable to spend $9 and four hours to figure that much out about Sarah Palin?