Palin Has Some of Her Detractors Seeing Rouge

Posted December 14, 2009 at 3:09pm

Americans decisively elected Barack Obama last November, but they got stuck with Sarah Palin as well. After all, how many losing vice presidential candidates and former Alaska governors get rock star treatment, multimillion-dollar book deals and spawn hundreds of column inches of both adoration and scorn long after defeat at the ballot box?

Palin’s recent memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life,— even provoked Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, editors at the left-leaning Nation magazine, to compile a hostile, look-alike sendup titled “Going Rouge: An American Nightmare.— The book is not a narrative, but instead is a volume of unsympathetic essays examining the “real— Palin — not the fantasy version presented in her memoir.

The book is a rehash of critical commentary first published in outlets such as the Nation, Salon.com, the New Yorker, Slate.com and the New Republic by well-known pundits and commentators such as Frank Rich, Hanna Rosin, Thomas Frank and Eve Ensler. Unfortunately, “Going Rouge— falls short of its promise of an unvarnished look at Palin.

The hostile coterie of Palin detractors assembled by Kim and Reed all paint a remarkably cohesive portrait of her: a hypocritical, crazed, right-wing religious zealot chosen by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) only because of her gender, but who is hostile toward women’s rights, abortion and the environment. The sheer number of snide asides about shooting animals from planes is overwhelming in a book of meager length.

To be sure, most of these pieces were written by advocacy journalists and pundits with an agenda in the heat of a turbulent election campaign. But with the benefit of hindsight, most of the entries don’t hold up well as critical or even reflective essays.

Author Naomi Klein’s piece, “Shock Doctrine,— turns into a silly and hysterical rant against the evils of capitalism. Professor Juan Cole’s contribution involves a tenuous point-by-point comparison of Palin to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert try to paint Palin as a neo-Confederate secessionist with deep roots in the Alaskan Independence Party — a charge about as credible as rumors about President Barack Obama having a Kenyan birth certificate.

Sure, there are some highlights. Linda Hirshman’s piece comparing Palin’s campaign strategy to the 1995 dating manifesto “The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right— is cleverly presented.

Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi demonstrates that the spirit of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is alive and well in the magazine’s pages. His “Mad Dog Palin— entry is a wickedly funny, bitter piece that compares Palin to “Gidget address[ing] the Reichstag— and devolves into a rant insulting the intelligence of voters. “John Q. Public,— Taibbi writes, “will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin’ Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else’s, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality.—

And both Salon’s Rebecca Traister and Slate’s Emily Bazelon have sincere, earnest pieces on the sympathies that some liberal, feminist women suddenly felt for Palin — who, at times, seemed far out of her league and overwhelmed by her political and personal responsibilities. “Seriously?— Traister writes. “Do we have to drag out a list of women who miraculously found a way to balance many of these factors — Hillary Clinton? Nancy Pelosi? Michelle Bachelet? — and who could still explain the Bush Doctrine without breaking into hives?—

But the sincerity and genuine humor of a few good essays cannot make up for the weaknesses in this collection. The vitriol of the too many authors too often lapses into outright hysteria and paranoia. And the advocacy journalism on display here too often peddles the same innuendos and guilt-by-association tactics so heavily maligned when they were deployed against Obama. If Palin’s memoir created a fantasy world, then “Going Rouge— suggests a horrific dystopia. The truth, as always, is grounded somewhere in between.