Sunday, November 29, 2009

When I finished Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” (HarperCollins, 2009), my first thought was, “Is there any way Ronald Reagan would have written something like this?” Not a chance.

The book has some good moments. How can you not enjoy a politician who is willing to say, “There’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals - right next to the mashed potatoes.”

How can you not like a figure who, as she pays tribute to the conservative author of her magnificent Republican National Convention acceptance speech, lets you know that he is actually a “bunny-hugging vegan and gentle, green soul who I think would throw himself in the path of a semitruck [sic] to save a squirrel!”

I also believe that what Mrs. Palin did as governor to cripple Alaska’s culture of corruption (including the ethically disgraceful Republican leadership) and bring reform to dispensation of the state’s petroleum riches represents one of the true political accomplishments of our time. (If only we could find a Sarah Palin to take on the corrupt culture of our earmarking U.S. Congress.)

Yet her account of these extraordinary reforms manages to fill little more than six pages of this book. When she describes them, she fails to approach the writing drama and reporting detail these reforms richly deserve. What a waste.

The reader is forced to consume countless pages of payback for what she does demonstrate to have been second-class-citizen treatment from the McCain campaign hierarchy. Some of the book’s best reading is when she goes after Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace. No Alaskan animal ever experienced the sharper end of a Palin knife.

Yet, again, can you imagine Reagan in those priceless late ‘70s radio addresses, bellyaching about the treatment he received at the hands of cunning Ford operatives at the Republican Party’s national convention?

My radio talk heroes simply aren’t leveling with us when they insist that the payback passages are taken out of context by the liberal media - and that the book is filled with substantive political content. I know they genuinely love Mrs. Palin, but I also know they surely could not have read, really read, this book.

Even if Mrs. Palin’s personal story (and her instinctive frontier conservatism) are to be much admired, the writing in this book is truly pedestrian. Unfortunately, the book also helps reinforce the post-campaign image of Mrs. Palin that has been such a turnoff to those who (unlike me) are not in full lock step with the conservative movement.

What really bothers me is that the liberal media is only too anxious to equate genuine voices of conservative reform with today’s Mrs. Palin.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Times’ Max Blumenthal reported with great authority last week that Mrs. Palin was responsible for the magnificent conservative insurrection in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. That simply is not true.

Without question, her endorsement of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman produced an immediate outpouring of campaign contributions from wingers around the country. But conservative insiders responsible for this campaign wisely coupled the announcement of her endorsement with that of Steve Forbes because their poll numbers showed that in New York’s north country Mrs. Palin’s support would hurt their candidate more than it helped among voters they had to have to win.

Is Mrs. Palin finished? She doesn’t have to be. She still has a splendid record of conservative reform in Alaska, and she is not without enormous personal appeal.

But she clearly needs to acquire the services of someone who can approach the communication skills of Reagan. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt if she forced herself to read Reagan’s radio manuscripts herself.

Kenneth Tomlinson is former editor in chief of Reader’s Digest.

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