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Matthew Continetti discusses Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue'

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Matthew Continetti
Journalist and author
Tuesday, November 17, 2009; 1:00 PM

Conservative journalist Matthew Continetti discusses his review of "Going Rogue," Sarah Palin's new political memoir.

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Matthew Continetti is an associate editor at The Weekly Standard and author of The Persecution of Sarah Palin.

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Baton Rouge, La.: Matthew -- I love your work, but as a conservative I honestly believe Sarah Palin is a disaster for the Republican party. While I respect her and all that she has accomplished, look at the kind of individuals she attracted to our party during the campaign - uneducated, mostly white, ignorant bordering on racist people. Is this who we want in our party? If we refuse to embrace the Big Tent concept, we will be forever doomed to be in minority status.

Matthew Continetti: Flattery will get you everywhere! But I'm afraid I don't share your opinion of Palin and her supporters. The Palin supporters I've met tend to be nice folks with a lot of kids who are worried about the future of their country.

I do agree, though, that the GOP doesn't have much of a future unless it can attract support from the independent voters who abandoned it in 2006 and 2008. That seems to be happening, however, as independents become disenchanted with Obama and the liberal Democratic agenda. If Palin wants to be part of the Republican future, she'll have to find a way not to alienate the independents, who are divided about her. We'll see if she can do it.

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Des Moines, Iowa: Mr. Continetti,

Why can't you and other Palin enthusiasts call a spade a spade and recognize that Ms. Palin has no intentions of seriously running for president. She's aiming to capitalize on her celebrity, while being able to shape the Republican/conservative agenda on the side. I can't imagine she has any real desire to hold a position of leadership in the government. This is her right, frankly, to be a celebrity in our vapid, vacuous culture. But to pretend that she's a serious contender for an executive position in national government seems disingenuous and self-serving. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Thank you.

Matthew Continetti: I'm not sure we know Palin's intentions - in fact, I'm not sure Palin knows her intentions. She's a politician who often decides things on the spur of the moment. As I read the parts of "Going Rogue" where she describes why she resigned from the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission, I couldn't help being reminded of her surprise resignation from the governorship last July. Both were bold moves that seemed foolish at the time. In the case of her resignation from the commission, however, the decision paid off when Palin became the youngest and first woman governor in Alaska history in 2006. She may think something similar will happen now that she is a private citizen once again.

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Maryland : Please explain why did Gov. Palin not finish her first term in office? Thank you Matthew for taking my question.

Matthew Continetti: Palin's sudden resignation is a big weight around her political neck. She needs to explain her decision more fully than she has previously. I was able to talk to her about the resignation when it happened, and I found that her explanation jibed with my own reporting on the issue. Simply put, after the campaign, Palin returned to an untenable political situation in Alaska. Because she had done so much to disturb the Republican establishment, she relied heavily on Democratic votes in the legislature to pass her agenda. But once she became a global celebrity and a national GOP leader, that bipartisan support evaporated. So there wasn't much of a chance that Palin could get any further reforms through the statehouse.

Then there were the legal bills piling up from all the frivolous ethics complaints being lodged against her. And finally, Palin found that she could not play a role on the national stage as long as she remained governor. Whenever she visited the Lower 48, she'd be criticized for abandoning her state. Her approval ratings suffered. Palin decided the time was right for a bold move. So she resigned. Now we'll see how that affects her future, political or otherwise.

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Arlington, Va.: Rush Limbaugh said that Going Rogue is "truly one of the more substantive policy books I've read". Is this what most of the conservative reviewers believe?

Matthew Continetti: You'd have to ask other conservative reviewers! As I write in today's Post, I think the book is a gauzy, straightforward personal and political memoir that offers some glimpses of policy, but not as much as I'd personally like to see.

The main reason for this book, I think, is that Palin wants to tell her side of her life story, and correct any false impressions of her. I'm not sure "Going Rogue" is going to change any minds, however.

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Rockville, Md.: Ms. Palin is not a lightning rod, but a litmus test. Her book shows that she's a petty person - totally devoid of intellect and substance - intent on settling scores. Anyone who supports her as viable candidate for any office is either ignorant or doesn't have America's best interest at heart.

It is not Katie Couric's fault that a person aspiring to be vice-president of the United States couldn't name a single book or magazine that she read. I'm a regular joe who reads "Newsweek" and "the Economist." If anyone asked me what I read, it wouldn't have taken me more than a split second to name those two publications. I cringe at the thought that leaders in China and India look at her and think there is a possibility that Americans may vote her to higher office. I'm sure that reflects very well on our country.

Matthew Continetti: It's striking to me how heavily the Katie Couric interview has shaped perceptions of Palin. As I write in "The Persecution of Sarah Palin," the interview was probably the most damaging to a national political figure since Ted Kennedy's interview to Roger Mudd in 1979, when Kennedy couldn't say why he wanted to be president. If Palin wants to remain in politics, she'll have to sit down with Couric again.

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Washington, DC: Matthew, today, on washingtonpost.com, there were no chats discussing President Obama's trip to Asia, or the landmark healthcare legislation being debated in Congress. There were however, four chats devoted to Sarah Palin's new book. It is safe to say that the media is obsessed with this woman. On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow will frequently discuss Palin and Cheney - two jobless individuals without positions in American government - before discussing the President or Congress. After all, it's no secret in media that it's more fun to pick on people than discuss substantive issues.

Matthew Continetti: I think you raise a great point. The reason that the media can't look away is that Palin has a unique political talent: she summons strong feelings from her supporters and her detractors. Every move she makes is the subject of news and debate. The fact that she's so polarizing may serve as a ceiling on her political ambitions. But it also guarantees her a place in our political discourse for a long time to come.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello. I was hoping that you could talk a bit about why so many people seem to like Sarah Palin. I knew nothing about her before the campaign, and thought that she gave a terrific RNC speech. However, once she started doing interviews, I became concerned about the following issues: (1) how easily she was rattled by Gibson and Couric; (2) disjointed answers possibly showing disjointed thinking (e.g., Putin rearing his head; reads "all" of the newspapers);(3) rhetoric at rallies conflating Obama with terrorists; (4) alleging that there is a "real" America vs. some other America.

These are some of the things that concerned me, and even made my father, a lifelong Republican, abstain from voting. What are the things that people like about her, and did any of the above bother them?

Matthew Continetti: I think the thing Palin's supporters like most about her is her authenticity, her plain-spoken manner, and her record of reform in Alaska.

Voters tend to respond at a gut level to political figures. And once they make a connection -- or once they are repulsed -- the politician can't do too much to change things.

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a progressive who "gets" Sarah Palin: While I don't agree w/Ms. Palin on most issues, I do see the elitism of the media elites and power elites at work. In the same way that the liberal media -- as did/do right wingers and conservatives -- savaged Hillary Clinton, they have also and continue to savage Ms. Palin for many of the wrong reasons.

I see her amazing raw political talent and charisma and why people are drawn to her -- she has 'it' and if/when 'it' is disciplined and focused, she very likely could be a presidential contender. My guess is that if she had developed in a more progressive environment, she just as easily could have been a leader in progressive issues proving that context (including locale and education) is a major influence on the development of any leader or person for that matter.

Matthew Continetti: The parallels between the treatment of Clinton and the treatment of Palin are quite interesting. I think that's one reason why Clinton seemed open to meeting with Palin when asked about her the other day. Palin often name-checked Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, and I personally believe Clinton appreciated that.

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Really?: "Simply put, after the campaign, Palin returned to an untenable political situation in Alaska. Because she had done so much to disturb the Republican establishment, she relied heavily on Democratic votes in the legislature to pass her agenda. But once she became a global celebrity and a national GOP leader, that bipartisan support evaporated. So there wasn't much of a chance that Palin could get any further reforms through the statehouse."

If this is true, I don't think there is much of a political future for her, at least not to elected office. She came back to a divisive situation that make it difficult for her to push through reforms? Er, ask Obama how much fun that atmosphere is . . . then ask him when he plans on quitting. I just don't think she has the stomach, brains or temperament for governance.

Matthew Continetti: I think you raise a good point. Voters on the national stage may not be willing to take a chance on Palin after her resignation. Certainly that's what the polling indicates.

Republican primary voters, on the other hand, may be a different story. Though I do believe that, should Palin decide to run for president, her rivals -- Mike Huckabee in particular -- will make the resignation an issue.

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Evanston, Ill.: If you were hiring for a tough job and you came across a resume of someone who went to six colleges to obtain a degree in sports journalism, would that resume go to the top or the bottom of the pile?

Matthew Continetti: Depends on the job, and depends on what other qualities I see in the resume. I don't believe anyone's opportunities should be limited just because it took them a while to finish college. And of course, I don't believe anyone should be dismissed just because they are a journalist!

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Skokie, IL: So, the Palin book is a bit short on policy. You feel she'll need to more fully address her resignation if she seeks political office in the future. And she'll have to have another Couric interview.

What else do you think she'll need to do should she decide to run for public office again?

Thank you.

Matthew Continetti: The most important thing, as I wrote in the "Wall Street Journal" the other day, is to adopt a free-market, populist message that appeals to independent voters. She'll also need to return to the bipartisan themes of her 2006 run for governor. If you see her doing those things over the next couple of years, then she's running for president. If not, then not.

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Washington, DC: Every time a conservative woman or minority comes out on the national stage ...Clarence Thomas, Janice Rodgers Brown, Sarah Plain, Michael Steele, etc.....the media tries to call them stupid, etc. And the worst part is, some people actually believe them. Yeah, the edited part of Katie Couric's interview we saw (funny how they won't release the other parts) wasn't good, but a woman who worked her way through college to become governor of a state isn't stupid.

Clarence Thomas is stupid , Janice Rodgers Brown, a woman who came from nothing to become a judge, wasn't worthy for the supreme court because she was conservative. Sounds like a little typical liberal trying to destroy conservative women/minorities combined with typical liberal snobbish behavior towards anyone who worked their way up alone, and is conservative.

Just my thoughts...interested in your opinions

Matthew Continetti: The parallels between all these cases are quite striking. I write about them in "The Persecution of Sarah Palin."

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Washington, DC: One things about Palin's recollections of the McCain campaign is how much power staffers like Nicole Wallace and Steve Schmidt had regarding what Palin did, said, and even wore and how shabbily they treated Palin. Is this typical of how VP candidates are treated? I'm having a lot of trouble envisioning Obama's staff treating Biden so disrespectfully, criticizing his attire, ignoring his contributions, acting as if they thought he was stupid. Can you enlighten me? Thanks.

Matthew Continetti: I don't believe this sort of treatment is typical at all. The fact is, the McCain campaign was so concerned about Palin's potential weaknesses that they ignored her strengths. They bottled her up, afraid she was going to make a mistake. That intensified the pressure when it came time for high-profile interviews with Gibson and Couric. Once they allowed Palin to speak more freely, we rarely heard about any gaffes. But by that time the public's perception of her was fixed.

I have to run -- but thank you for the interesting questions!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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