“The upcoming release of former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s book, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” should be met with impressive sales, an expert said.
Mary Matalin, editor-in-chief of Threshold Editions, said the book that earned the former Republican vice presidential candidate an advance as much as $1.25 million is due for release on Nov. 17 in the wake of additional works about the political figure, McClatchy Newspapers reported Sunday.”
Since Sarah Palin’s new soon-to-be-bestseller is finally coming out, I thought now was as good a time as any to put out an article about Palin’s resignation I wrote this summer but never published. In the piece I predicted that the book would be called I, SARAH PALIN, GOES WASHINGTON, but it turns out it’s actually called GOING ROGUE; AN AMERICAN LIFE (an early article I read about it contained a misprint that left me confused for days as to why Sarah Palin would head into a presidential campaign with a book called GOING ROUGE). When she resigned this past summer I was her freakout/resignation would end up helping her, and that the inevitable platitude-rich bestseller would be step one anyway, here’s the piece that we never put out…
If you didn’t know any better, if you didn’t know what that you were watching wasn’t an overdose of strong uppers but simple garden-variety stupidity mixed with severe stress, you’d have thought Sarah Palin’s breathless, rambling resignation speech a few weeks back was one the great public performances in the history of recreational narcotics – a masterpiece on par with Dock Ellis’s 1976 LSD-aided no-hitter and Britney’s seminal 2007 MTV Awards “comeback” performance.
The speech was a tour de force of Palinism, a dozen-plus feverish minutes of strident paranoia and passionate incoherence that in the end only just barely managed to achieve their ostensible rhetorical purpose – an announcement that John McCain’s erstwhile train-wreck running mate was stepping down as governor of Alaska in order to set the bloodthirsty tabloids working on the most intriguing political mystery story in years.
Why did Sarah quit? This is the question that the national political press will surely spend a good part of the next two years debating, until Palin inevitably resurfaces in February of 2011 buoyed by her inevitable hot bestseller (I, Sarah Palin, Goes Washington), by the inevitable rave reviews at whatever no-show, dingbat job she ends up taking (Liberty University Athletic Director? American Idol judge?), and by the fifty or sixty million in quietly-collected search committee money we all know is already being arranged.
Until that time comes, we’ll all be left to wonder just why exactly Sarah Palin quit her day job when the playbook seemed so obviously to call for eighteen more months of gubernatorial pseudo-rectitude in preparation for the presumed 2012 assault on Mount Obama; whether it really was just a case of premature media burnout, as she seemed to imply, or whether some darker reason forced her hand.
Clues were scarce at first. In the initial surprise announcement, made against a backdrop of swarming bugs and paddling lake fowl outside her Wasilla, Alaska home on July 3, Palin seemed almost monomaniacally focused on the tabloid circus that had become her daily existence, mentioning hostile press coverage over a dozen times. In the most weirdly tasteless and uncomfortable part of her speech, she even contrasted the Iraq war veterans she’d recently visited overseas to her media antagonists, implying that these patriotic soldiers were too busy getting shot for the good of the flag to “waste time” crucifying a hardworking Republican governor. “We can all learn from our selfless troops,” she said. “They’re bold, they don’t give up, they take a stand and know that life is short so they choose to not waste time” on “superficial wasteful political bloodsport.”
The governor, without a doubt, was by the end getting it in every orifice from a variety of highly creative antagonists never dreamed of before August 29, 2008 (the Anno Domini in the Palinoid calendar, marking the date she was named to the presidential ticket by the ever-regretful John McCain), including a bevy of emboldened in-state enemies who had slapped her with no fewer than 18 ethics complaints since last year. “Some say things changed for me on August 29,” she said. “I say others changed.”
In fact things have been tough all around since we last saw Palin on the big stage last fall, playing the role of the overmatched anchor round the neck of the probably doomed-already McCain candidacy. After the November catastrophe she and her family became a favored paparazzi target, especially after daughter Bristol squeezed out her apparently unwanted love child and promptly became a creepily outspoken advocate for abstinence (the world anxiously awaits baby Tripp’s unavoidable teenage breakdown upon reading, in the People magazine archives, Bristol’s disturbing tirade against the drag of motherhood).
Palin also engaged in an uncomfortably heated spat with David Letterman that managed somehow to make both sides look bad, while so severely mismanaging her relatively modest responsibilities as an off-year presidential hopeful (missing a series of promised engagements) that the national Republican party had to send officials to Alaska for a sort of intervention, to straighten out her calendar and prevail upon her to answer her telephone.
While a lot of this stuff was undoubtedly annoying and some of the ethics complaints in particular were absurd (in one of the 18 cases she was criticized for wearing a jacket with the logo of her husband’s snowmobile race sponsor), Palin’s reaction to all of it, particularly the media criticism, was way out of proportion to reality, far beyond the usual “the liberal press is out to get us” bullshit that more psychologically healthy conservative politicians will sling in public either out of calculation, or just for the fun of it.
In fact, Palin’s obsession with her critics appears really to have advanced beyond even Nixonian levels – culminating in an extraordinary letter written by her attorney Thomas Van Flein to various news organizations the day after her resignation that seemed to be evidence of a major paranoid episode.
The rambling four-page letter amazingly threatened legal action against any reporter who implied that Palin was facing a federal investigation into whether or not she embezzled funds from a sports complex construction project in her hometown of Wasilla. Palin’s intent was to head off speculation that she had resigned in advance of a pending investigation – a story that to date had mostly been pushed by a little-known blogger in Alaska – but the letter instead only heightened interest in the obscure story and guaranteed that it became a major national headline.
Moreover Van Flein’s letter, which was directed at Palin-unfriendly news organizations like the Washington Post, MSNBC, and the New York Times, read like a late-stage Lenny Bruce rant, full of arcane details humorlessly offered in Palin’s defense and lots of hideously leaden sarcasm directed at her enemies. The letter’s sneering footnote broadside at Village Voice investigative ace Wayne Barrett, who had written about the Wasilla story, sums up the Palin frame of mind in the last days of her governorship:
“[Barrett’s story is] written in the style of one pretending to be amazed that so many people in a small town like Wasilla appear to know one another, support one another, and take on big projects together. Apparently that is uncommon in New York”
What was remarkable about the Van Flein letter wasn’t so much that Palin seemed really to believe she could head off bad press by blanket-threatening the entire national political media with a lawsuit, but that she took this extraordinary step just weeks after another similarly damaging story had broken that should have woken her up to the p.r. dangers of such nutty-ass paranoid behavior.
Just a few weeks before, CBS News had published a series of emails written last year between Palin and McCain chief campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, in which Palin tried to order Schmidt to proactively issue a false press release about her husband Todd’s membership in a secessionist political party.
Apparently Palin during the campaign last year heard someone shout at her in a ropeline about Todd Palin’s membership in the Alaska Independence Party (AIP); she immediately blew this up in her mind to a major threat and directed Schmidt to issue a press release saying that his seven-year membership in the party was an “error,” the result of checking a box on a ballot by mistake, a clearly absurd if not actually insane excuse. As the lone grownup in the equation Schmidt unhesitatingly pulled rank and told her to shut the fuck up, noting that Todd had been in a secessionist party and it was useless to deny that fact, sensibly advising her to just smile and say “Todd loves America” if it ever came up again.
But Palin didn’t let it go, and sent a letter back to Schmidt continuing to deny the obvious facts about Todd’s membership and demanding that Schmidt relent (“I still want it fixed”), making the curious decision to CC the letter to five completely extraneous campaign workers, including a junior staffer from Palin’s own office in Alaska who had absolutely no input on campaign decisions. This was like a campaign trail version of Mommie Dearest, with poor Schmidt playing the role of the director hauled into the diva’s trailer to get reamed for showing too many of her wrinkles onscreen.
Viewed alongside some of the other Palin scandals – the alleged intervention to attempt to get a former brother in-law fired from the State Police, the apparent firing of the Wasilla librarian after she refused to consider censoring books – all of this points to a serious gash in the Palin psyche, one that overreacts to imagined enemies and is willing to go to wildly irrational lengths to head off even the mildest threats. Taken as part of this larger pattern, Palin’s surprise resignation almost seems like a kind of self-flagellating strike against her critics, as if she is trying to punish the world for targeting her by depriving us of the one valuable thing she thinks she has to offer us – her career.
And here’s the really scary part: it worked. Palin’s paranoid ramblings and self-pitying tantrums on the way out of office not only didn’t injure her chances for national office, they actually appeared to help, as polls taken in the week after her resignation showed that 71% of Republicans were now prepared to vote for her for president in 2012. Just as she had during the campaign last fall, Palin defied rational analysis by making a primal connection with the subterranean resentments of white middle America, which is apparently so pissed off now at the rest of the planet for not coddling its hurt feelings in the multicultural age that it is willing to embrace any politician who validates its insane sense of fucked-overness.
Nobody understands this political reality quite like Palin, even if she doesn’t actually understand it in the sense of someone who thinks her way to a conclusion, but merely lives it, unconsciously, with the unerring instinct of a herd animal. Palin’s supporters don’t judge her according to her almost completely nonexistent qualifications for serious office, they perceive her as they would a character in a Biblical narrative, a Job in heels with cross-eyes and a mashed-potato-brained husband who happens to spend a lot of time getting shat upon by Letterman and Maureen Dowd and the other modern-day Enemies of Christ.
On some level Palin understands better than any of us that what’s important to her base isn’t how well she does her job or even what she does with her time before 2012, but who her enemies are and how loudly she beats the drum against them – and when the news comes out that these foes have recently driven her to such distraction that she even started losing her hair (reportedly necessitating a recent emergency trip to personal hairdresser Jessica Steele), it elevates her conservative martyr credentials to previously unimagined levels.
As a national candidate she seems to us normal/rational observers mortally wounded, but as a conduit for middle American resentment she may actually have gained in stature, and don’t be at all surprised if she doesn’t emerge with the status of something like a religious figure when they roll the rock back for her inevitable candidacy three years from now.
Of course there’s another way of looking at this too, especially in light of exiled Bristol Palin cheerful-lunkhead baby-daddy Levi Johnston’s recent revelations that, while living with the Palin family over the winter, he had heard Sarah Palin talk about cashing in on her fame via million-dollar book deals and other opportunities. “She had talked about how nice it would be to take some of this money people had been offering us and you know just run with it, say ‘forget everything else,'” Levi said.
It may be that the notoriously work-averse Palin (whose gubernatorial office hours grew steadily shorter as this year went on, according to reports) realized that in the current cultural climate, she could have it all without having to bother with the actual work of politics. She could turn her resignation into the supreme expression of conservative principle, seeming to show such high distaste for government that she can quit an executive job in a nervous panic and still get high marks from her base for ideological leadership – a hilariously contradictory and idiotic situation only possible in a country willing to go past a certain intellectual point of no return.
THE MOST DELICIOUS moment in the recent Palin brouhaha, after all, was her classic fuckup in the days after her resignation, when she slipped up while arguing that as president she wouldn’t have to deal with the persecution she faced as Alaska governor. “I think on a national level your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we’ve been charged with and automatically throw them out,” she said, apparently unaware that there is no federal “Department of Law.”
This amazing gaffe reminded everyone of what we might have to look forward to in 2012, when the Republican Party may well nominate a woman who would lose at Trivial Pursuit to a Chilean sea bass, who makes George W. Bush look like Sir Isaac Newton. What’s incredible about Palin isn’t that she has a few gaps in her knowledge base, but that she doesn’t know anything about anything at all; she moreover doesn’t seem to feel the need to make sure one idea follows the next when she talks, instead just blurting out random unconnected bits and pieces of deep-seated resentment and persecution complex. Even ideological consistency is an alien concept to her (she wears her religious fundamentalism on her sleeve, but lets her unmarried daughter shack up with a human hard-on in the next room over) and she appears to resent the notion that it shouldn’t be.
All of which makes Sarah Palin the perfect leader for the inevitable pushback against the Obama era, when America in a vague and superficial sort of way decided to celebrate the values of culture, tolerance and knowledge. The other America doesn’t read and doesn’t remember anything it didn’t learn in the last five minutes; it’s angry and unhappy but doesn’t want to think about why, and knows only that it wants someone to pay the price for what it feels.
These people don’t want a president who reads Urdu poetry, they want a president who thinks Urdu is a Swedish dog food and doesn’t care if you know it. Just like them, Sarah Palin is now an unemployed loser who lost her job and her status thanks to forces beyond her comprehension and thinks she knows exactly whom to blame – laugh at her now if you like, but see if her humiliating exit doesn’t turn out to be the hole card that wins her the Republican nomination.