The Education of Sarah Palin: A REview of ‘Going Rogue: An American Life’

"Going Rogue: An American Life" By Sarah Palin | HarperCollins (November 2009) | 432 pp. | List Price: $28.99

Most likely, millions of copies of Going Rogue have been sold in recent months because Sarah Palin inspires either great enthusiasm or great antipathy among Americans. In light of this, a book review seems in order.

Palin’s book can be best understood as several phases in the "education of Sarah Palin." This "education" had three phases—and perhaps a fourth.

Part one of her education is recorded in the first 208 pages. It includes accounts of her birth, family, early life, school, involvement in sports, eventual matriculation in college—the last three years at the University of Idaho, with a sports-journalism major—marriage, family, and her Alaskan political life. The latter included a stint on city council, as town mayor, and as chair of an important state energy commission, and then, finally, three years as governor. The text is punctuated with many examples showing how independent-minded Alaskans are and how demanding life is on America’s "last frontier."

Part two of Palin’s education begins with the announcement that John McCain had called her, asking if she would be his running mate. Immediately, she was whisked off to Arizona and hustled to a remote ranch where she was grilled for hours by numerous McCain senior staff members—before a grueling campaign regimen ensued. From her observations, treatment of her by these advisors was not gracious nor respectful. They all wanted McCain to select someone else. This phase of her education taught her how rough and tumble, even brutal, national political campaigns can be.

A third stage in Palin’s education began as the campaign neared its conclusion. At this point, her "managers" had scripted every moment of every day for weeks, especially what she could say or not say in speeches, not to mention what she would wear. Palin found it especially exasperating that all the dictates placed on her came from "Headquarters," a mysterious place that she never did figure out where or what it was. "Handlers" drove her to a decision to push back, pushing back against their persistent demands—demands she felt had suppressed her personal qualities and political views. It was at this point that a senior advisor circulated the view that Palin had "gone rogue." She continued her resistence to their pushing. By the time the campaign was over, Palin was a much wiser politician.

A fourth phase in Palin’s education was underway as she wrote this book. In this phase, she hopefully is spending time on gaining a deeper understanding of the American experience, especially its foreign policy. Time will tell whether this process has, in fact, moved forward.

Stepping back from the stages of Palin’s "education," a few additional observations need to be made:

First, Going Rogue should be classified as a memoir; that is, "a book that records facts largely known only to the writer." Further, one expects to find in a memoir a certain informal and random presentation of facts. Many readers will find, however, Palin’s informal style either charming, or, on occasion, unbecoming of a national candidate. Examples of this latter category are her frequent use of the phrase "kick butt," or reference to a "bull crap story."
The phrase and title "going rogue" stands out as a real curiosity. Page 298 finally states why this title was selected and what it means: There Palin recounts how advisors were angry with her for voicing her personal views. They said she was "going rogue," and, in her mind, this was a sharply derogatory remark.

The wisdom of using this term in the book title is questionable. The McCain advisor intended the term as a damning indictment of Palin personally. Dictionaries include the following phrases to define "rogue:" 1) a dishonest person; 2) a rascal or scamp; or, 3) an animal with a savage disposition. Of course, Palin did not intend the phrase so-defined to apply to her. Here, her editors did not serve her well in allowing this title to be used.

To conclude, Going Rogue definitely provides an understanding of Palin’s growth as a person and as a politician. She is not a wild-eyed radical. To appreciate her political views, one need only turn to the views of Ronald Reagan. Their unique quality is that they are expressed in the frontier-nurtured, informal Alaskan style. Her political views also indicate a rather modest understanding of the nation’s history and culture. Perhaps this could be overcome with additional study of America’s cultural and political experience, thus constituting a possible fourth educational phase of Sarah Palin.

A final observation: Sarah Palin would want readers to know that she has a deep and well-developed Christian faith.

— Dr. L. John Van Til is a Fellow for Law & Humanities with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.