Sarah Palin is back to tell us that she loves Alaska. And America. And Todd, the First Dude. She loves God, Ronald Reagan, cutting taxes and serving those she calls "ordinary hardworking people." Who's on Sarah's enemies list? The media. Good ol' boys who condescend to her. Elites like the Alaskan gadfly she describes as a "Birkenstock-and-granola Berkeley grad." Oh, and she really hates cynical McCain campaign staffers who, in her view, sabotaged her vice-presidential campaign.
That's pretty much everything you need to know about Going Rogue, the former Alaska governor's breezy new memoir. There's more about the intricacies of Alaskan politics than most readers could possibly care about. There are also familiar stories of life on the campaign trail. But Going Rogue is a book designed to re-introduce Palin as a national political force, and — though she's coy about this — to lay the groundwork for a 2012 presidential run.
The rap on Palin is that she's too shallow and inexperienced for the presidency — a conclusion that early Palin supporters like me came to during the 2008 campaign. Alas, for conservatives in search of a champion, there's nothing in Going Rogue to challenge that conclusion. It's like this: Palin spends seven pages dishing about her appearance on Saturday Night Live, but just over one page discussing her national security views.
Palin positions herself as a populist, but her populism is entirely cultural. She never misses an opportunity to tell us how weepy she gets when she thinks about our country and its military. She fires the governor's mansion chef, who is bored because her kids won't eat his fancypants food. She swoons over a meal of homemade blueberry pie from "hardworking, unpretentious, patriotic" Alaskans — unlike, one presumes, those uppity Berkeley snobs who prefer tarte Tatin at Chez Panisse.
A little of that goes a long way, and I wouldn't begrudge Palin a bit of it if her populism had any economic substance. Early in Going Rogue she talks in detail about how Exxon exploited the people of Alaska in the Exxon Valdez disaster. And her experience tangling with oil companies taught Palin about how big business colludes with government to create a crony capitalism that harms the common good.
And yet, she's incapable of understanding how the uncritically pro-business economic agenda she touts makes this possible.
"In national politics, some feel that big Business is always opposed to the Little Guy," she writes. "Some people seem to think a profit motive is inherently greedy and evil, and that what's good for business is bad for people. (That's what Karl Marx thought too.)"
Karl Marx! Well, say no more! Along those lines, Palin's economic program amounts to nothing more than tax-cutting, deregulating and the endless repetition of shopworn GOP talking points.
This is the Republican Party's great populist hope?
Sarah Palin is selling a personality, not a platform. That's not dumb. She's doing the best she can with what she has to work with. She quotes her father's line upon her resignation this summer as Alaska's governor: "Sarah's not retreating, she's reloading." On evidence of this book, Sarah Palin is charging toward 2012 shooting blanks.