Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue: An American Life (HarperCollins) is being pitched by her publisher as “one ordinary citizen’s extraordinary journey.”
That’s about right.
Palin is ordinary — remarkably, overwhelmingly, mind-numbingly ordinary.
Back in the day, it seemed as if she might be extraordinary. When I started writing about her in 2006, the year that Palin took on the good old boys of Alaskan Republican politics, she seemed intriguing — even a little, dare we say it, rogue.
The story of a small-town mayor mounting a primary challenge to a sitting governor of her own party — who also happened to be a former US senator and an insider of the highest order in a state where the Grand Old Party is so inbred that it is still nominating the same people it was running in the first elections after statehood was achieved — was appealing. The shoot-from-the-hip (and the helicopter) mayor of Wasilla seemed to come with fewer strings attached then most Alaskan politicians, be they Republicans or Democrats.
Palin’s few months as governor quickly disabused anyone who was paying attention to the notion that she was a reformer. After wrangling a bit with the powerful oil lobby — in a fight that saw her make common cause with liberal Democrats in the legislature — she soon embarked upon a career of cronyism and abuses of power.
Had John McCain’s presidential campaign bothered to vet Palin, she never would have been tapped to join the GOP’s 2008 ticket. But McCain, always a seat of the pants flier, went with his gut and got sucker punched.
Palin was precisely the wrong running mate for McCain.
While the senator from Arizona was a maverick who sought to reach far beyond the boundaries of the Republican Party in hopes of actually winning the presidency, Palin had far more ordinary ambitions.
She was delighted to preach to the choir.
Palin wanted to be the queen of the conservatives, and perhaps the matron of what remained of the Republican Party after George Bush and Dick Cheney were done with it.
But she never evidenced the determination of a John McCain or a Barry Goldwater — let alone a Ronald Reagan — to build conservatism into a brand that might appeal to enough Americans to actually win a national election.
The most amusing of Palin’s apologists stare longingly enough at her photos to see something Reaganesque.
They need to look again.
Reagan was all about big ideas. You could disagree with the guy, but you could not question his boldness — or the enthusiasm that went with it. Palin’s the opposite; her idea of a “big idea” wouldn’t make it as a footnote in the Reagan lexicon.
Palin has never had grand ideas or grand ambitions — a point reinforced frequently in the 413-page-long Going Rogue. She has always been more than satisfied with petty squabbles inside the party and on its fringe; witness the delight with which she joined the sniping over the conservative credentials of the Republican nominee in this month’s special election to fill the District 23 congressional seat in upstate New York.
Where Reagan tried to erect a big tent, Palin is busy kicking the infidels out of a very small temple.
Reagan read newspapers and magazines by the stack, combing them for information, ideas and new ways to argue the conservative brief. Palin can’t be bothered, as her agonizing interviews last fall with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric illustrated. (In Going Rogue, and in a soft-focus interview with Oprah Winfrey, Palin slaps Couric around, accusing the CBS anchor of skipping “substantive” questions and going for “gotcha moments.” Tellingly, the former governor does not dwell on why it was that those “gotcha moments” were so easily gotten.)
Reagan loved the base — and they loved him — but he was all about reaching beyond it.
Can anyone seriously imagine Reagan appearing at a major gathering of social conservatives, as Palin did November 6, when she addressed a gala fund raiser for the Wisconsin Right to Life Education Fund, and trying to prohibit media coverage — along with “cell phones, recording devices, video and still cameras.”
And it is downright comic to think that Reagan would have embarked on a national book tour that was organized to “avoid Democratic cities” — as is Palin’s — and that steers primarily toward the warm embrace of FOX and friends TV and radio interviews. (Palin says she’s “hoping to have the opportunity” to talk with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, among others.)
Contrast Palin’s cloistered campaigning with the boisterousness of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a much more Reaganesque figure. Huckabee’s every bit as conservative as his partisan compatriot from Alaska. But he’s a big-tent man, who stayed out of the New York-23 fight. And when he toured last fall on behalf of his book Do the Right Thing, Huckabee appeared just about everywhere. He even did Comedy Central’s Daily Show with John Stewart and went on MSNBC, where he sparred with brainy liberal Rachel Maddow.
Notably, for all the current attention to Palin, it is Huckabee who maintains a solid lead among Republican voters when they are asked who they prefer as their 2012 nominee. A Rasmussen survey conducted last month had the at-least-reasonably-Reaganesque Huckabee at 29 percent.
Ordinary Sarah Palin was at 18 percent, and falling.
For more about the former governor of Alaska, check out GOING ROUGE: Sarah Palin – An American Nightmare, a terrific new collection of essays on the woman from Wasilla (including two by this writer), which has been ably edited by The Nation‘s Richard Kim and Betsy Reed. Going Rouge is the really rogue book for Americans who think “maverick” is a state of mind — not a political slogan.