By Ana Marie Cox
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
An American Life
By Sarah Palin
HarperCollins. 413 pp. $28.99
Much like Sarah Palin's own political debut, "Going Rogue" has burst onto the national scene demanding a response -- and normally sane and reasonable people seem unable to refuse that demand, whatever gaps in their knowledge there may be. Rush Limbaugh last week proclaimed "Going Rogue" to be "truly one of the most substantive policy books I've read," though that certainly raises questions about what other policy books Rush has read and by what lights he considers the Palin book to be one. For all I know, it may be true. There may truly be substantive discussion of policy, something that goes beyond the thudding "taxes bad"/"government small" rhetoric that characterizes the moments when Palin turns her personal narrative into a discussion of government workings.
I cannot claim to have completely read "Going Rogue" -- I had to skim the last 150 pages (or more than one-third). I only got the thing into my hands late Monday afternoon with a deadline of early evening. It's terrible, I know, but if I didn't read it all, neither can Sarah Palin claim to have completely written it.
One of the few surprises of the book: For a frontierswoman, Palin really doesn't like smokers -- especially if they're men working for John McCain. She describes the "jaded" "professional political caste" of the McCain campaign as "tumbling out of the bus in a pack, lighting cigarettes as they went so it looked like a walking cloud of smoke with legs," and, later, she gets a nasty jab in at senior adviser Steve Schmidt, who, she says, "used nicotine to keep . . . his cognitive connections humming along."
Her critique of the campaign's strategy is about as sophisticated as her discussion of policy, and just as circumscribed by her own experience. When she was pregnant with daughter Piper, she says, she pondered anti-smoking laws when confronted by cigarette smoke in a restaurant: "Instead of supporting [a ban] . . . I just stopped going to the restaurant. It eventually went smoke-free on its own, which is the way things like that should work."
A pregnant waitress unprotected by a smoking ban might feel differently, as might, say, a vice presidential candidate, were she surrounded by chain smokers in her place of work.