Sarah Palin Bears It All

The most amazing aspect of Sarah Palin’s autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life, is that in just a few short months, Governor Palin has mastered the art of  standard English.  Flawless, lucid, flowing language pours from each page in the Governor’s  stunning rags-to-riches account of her remarkable life. As a prose stylist, clearly she has few peers.  William Safire immediately comes to mind but also Carlyle and Addison and Steele.  More startling—and even her detractors will agree with this—is the speed with which Governor Palin wrote her autobiography, which can only be the product of the well-organized mind of a genuinely talented writer.  The book has appeared months before its original planned date, all because of the Governor’s remarkable gifts of self-reflection.

And what a story she presents, original in every way: born in Idaho, raised in the outbacks of Alaska (where her family had moved) in one of America’s wildest environments, a supportive family as a child and—after her marriage to Todd—even more encouragement from her husband and children.  But to skip back a distance before her marriage, it is worth noting the most formative years of her life: the time she was a university student.  Much has been speculated about Governor Palin’s undergraduate education extending, as it did, over four different schools.  Fortunately, those speculations will now end, since Palin details her university experience and corrects the record.

The movement from one school to the next (Hawaii Pacific University, where incidentally she was a student with Barack Obama; North Idaho College; Matanuska-Susitna College; and the University of Idaho), was all a planned peregrination.  “At each university, I sought out the finest minds, the most demanding professors in order to probe their intellects for decoding the major philosophical questions that mankind has been concerned with since time immemorial.”  Once she had taken courses from the most  distinguished professors at an institution, then she moved on to another university where the process would begin all over again. “All American students,” she concludes, “would be better educated if they followed a similar plan.  Always tap the greatest intellects no matter where you find yourself.”

Of Alaska, Governor Palin is nothing if not rapturous, ethereal, even spiritual.  Clearly there is something about the state that is embedded deeply within her soul.  The open spaces are perfect for self-reflection and contemplation.  Her account of one early experience as a child—when she thought she was lost in the woods and would never find her way home—was comparable, she argues, to the Vision Quest for many Native Americans.  She exudes excitement, especially, about hunting, which she sees, after all, as nothing more than providing for one’s family.  “How can one not be thrilled by scoping with one’s rifle bear, caribou, crocodiles?” she asks. “God gave us these creatures so we could feed our families,” she remarks, and although she admits that contemporary attitudes toward hunting have changed, in Alaska guns are still a necessity for self-preservation.  (The time she was lost in the woods as a child, her greatest fear was that she would encounter a grizzly bear.)

Governor Palin is fully cognizant of Americans’ desire that she be the next President of the United States.  Her frontal approach to the question that all of us have asked ourselves is refreshingly honest.  She admits that Going Rogue: An American Life will serve as her official campaign biography and that she wrote it at this juncture in her life so that once she receives the nomination of her party, “Someone else won’t have to write a quickie job.”  In her directness, Governor Palin writes that her decision not to serve her full term as the governor of Alaska was prompted by her realization that she had already accomplished all that was needed for the state.  There was nothing left for her to do.

More startlingly, she states that if elected President of the United States, she will probably not serve the full eight years.  “If I can do for my country as a whole what I did for Alaska in less than a full term, why would I want to stay in the position for such a lengthy time?  To stay longer would be a waste of my talents. I’ll move on to something more challenging—the United Nations, for example, or even the Supreme Court—places where I have long realized I can contribute even more.”

Going Rogue is an archetypal American autobiography—deep in its reflective understanding of Governor Palin’s place in American history, profound in her vision for America’s future under her guidance.  What a pleasure to read a writer who can quote Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, and Reinhold Niebuhr with such ease and apply their wisdom to her own life.  I suspect that this book will soon be taught in American schools alongside the works of Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, other classic accounts of what it means to be an American.

Going Rogue: An American Life
HarperCollins, 422 pp., $28.99.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

Disclaimer: The review was written before he read the book.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = Twitter @LarsonChuck.