- Associated Press - Friday, November 19, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - In her new book, Sarah Palin takes on everything from “American Idol” to “American Beauty,” revives talk of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and finds fault in JFK’s famous religion speech, saying he “seemed to want to run away” from his faith.

Who gets praise? Simon Cowell, for one. And the movies “Juno,” “Knocked Up” and “40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Barack Obama? Unsurprisingly, not so much. She accuses him of reflecting “a stark lack of faith in the American people,” among many other things _ without tipping her hand on whether she will challenge him in 2012.

“America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag,” which has been billed as a tribute to American values, comes out Nov. 23. The Associated Press purchased a copy. Palin’s first book, the memoir “Going Rogue,” has sold more than 2 million copies.

In a chapter on faith and public life, Palin addresses at length John F. Kennedy’s noted speech on religion during the 1960 campaign _ a speech many saw as crucial to counter sentiment that his Catholic faith would hold undue sway over him if he became president.

“I am not the Catholic candidate for president,” Kennedy said at the time. “I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that JFK’s speech reconciled religion and public service without compromising either. But since she’s revisited the speech as an adult, she says, she’s realized that Kennedy “essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are.”

She praises Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for not “doing a JFK” during his campaign for the 2008 GOP nomination. “Where Kennedy seemed to want to run away from religion, Mitt Romney forthrightly embraced it,” she writes. She attributes the gulf not just to the difference between the men, but to the distance the country has come since 1960. Now, she says, America is “reawakening to the gift of our religious heritage.”

Palin is not the first conservative to challenge Kennedy’s speech. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania made similar remarks in September, saying he had admired Kennedy’s speech as a youth but later realized that “on that day, Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith.”

Historian Ted Widmer, who included the JFK speech in a Library of America anthology of the country’s oratory, said he was surprised by Palin’s comments.

“It’s putting a negative spin on what was interpreted at the time as a sensible and uplifting message,” said Widmer, himself a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. “JFK was trying to protect his own right to be a Catholic and to run for president.”

Palin’s potential presidential ambitions have been the subject of increasing chatter recently, with her every remark parsed for clues as to her 2012 plans. The former Alaska governor doesn’t detail her plans, but speaks of a need for new leaders.

“We’re worried that our leaders don’t believe what we believe, that America is an exceptional nation, the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan believed it is,” she writes. “We want leaders who share this fundamental belief. We deserve such leaders.”

Palin makes it clear she believes Obama is not such a leader. She accuses him of dismissing American “exceptionalism” as “a kind of irrational prejudice in favor of our way of life.”

In one of her more provocative passages, she returns to the subject of Wright, Obama’s controversial former pastor. And she revisits first lady Michelle Obama’s comment during the presidential race that “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.”

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