Sam Stein and Lisa Shapiro, Huffington Post
19 November 2010
In her newest book, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin sharply criticizes the record of President Barack Obama while defending her own, in the process offering an unapologetic vision of conservative politics that strongly suggests a forthcoming presidential run.
“America by Heart,” which will be officially released on Tuesday (The Huffington Post obtained an advance copy), exhibits Palin in a variety of roles: culture warrior, presidential critic, committed mother and political provocateur. Clocking in at roughly 270 pages, it reads, at times, like an episode of Glenn Beck's Fox News show. Lengthy quotes and historical research is threaded, often, around contemporary political debates. In the mind's eye of the former governor, the founders, were they alive today, would be nothing short of Palin devotees — and they would certainly be shocked by Obama.
The president makes infrequent appearances in Palin's book, but when he does surface it is in an unflattering light.
“There is a narcissism in our leaders in Washington today,” Palin writes. “There's a quasi-religious feeling to the message coming from them. They are trying to convince us that not only are they our saviors, but that we are our saviors… as candidate Obama proclaimed on Super Tuesday 2008, ‘We are the ones we've been waiting for, we are the change that we seek.'”
Obama, as Palin posits, is neither providing the change that was sought nor fulfilling the role of savior he supposedly promised. Instead, he is cast as a wealth re-distributor, a sly practitioner, and, above all else, a politician with policies antithetical to American values. This is true, she argues, on matters large and small.
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“They seemed to think we could be bribed by pie-in-the-sky promises; that we were gullible enough to believe that government could manufacture a new ‘right' to health care and we wouldn't pay the price with our freedom,” Palin writes about the president's health care legislation.
Palin pushes the same attack when writing about quasi-scandals, such as the president's NASA chief telling Arab television that his agency's “foremost” goal was outreach to the Muslim world.
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“How condescending to Muslims,” she writes. “How sad for America. And how unsurprising coming from a man who is himself one of the leading exemplars of the new culture of self-esteem. From ‘paying any price' and ‘bearing any burden' to trying to boost other countries' sense of self-worth by downplaying our own… Is this really supposed to convince our enemies that they shouldn't attack us and our way of life?”
And yet, while Palin sees deep faults in Obama's politics, she appears to be trying to emulate his political trajectory. “America By Heart” is her version of Obama's own second book, “The Audacity of Hope” — a blueprint for governance and worldview explainer designed with an eye on the electoral ripples it produces. There is, after all, plenty of red meat for conservatives to chew on, but also some noticeable calculation in the prose. Praise is given to potential Republican presidential aspirants Mitt Romney (for his speech on Mormonism during the 2008 presidential campaign) and Newt Gingrich, for some of his historical analysis of American politics. On hot-button issues like Arizona's immigration law, Palin stays noticeably vague, choosing only to chastise the media for mis-framing the legislation's reach.
“Love the law or hate the law, you couldn't help but notice that the reception it received from its critics seemed designed not just to discredit the statute, but to cast America itself in the most negative light possible… if you relied on MSNBC for your news, suddenly Arizona — and by extension, all of red-state America– had become the equivalent of Nazi Germany.”
Mainly, however, Palin assumes the task of a culture critic. Her wars are the same as those often waged on right-wing media or at conservative think tanks. Religion, for instance, is threatened by progressives who are either spiritually lost or in spiritual denial:
Most of those who write for the mainstream media and teach at universities and law schools don't share the religious faith of their fellow Americans. They seem to regard people who believe in God and regularly attend their church or synagogue as alien beings, people who are “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command,” as the Washington Post once famously put it.”
God isn't the only topic on which Palin battles with progressive agitators. Feminism is also wrestled away from the “bra-burning militancy” of the left:
Today's self-proclaimed feminists have (more than once) accused me of not being a “real woman” because I don't share their leftist views. (The same sort of insults are hurled at black conservatives like Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell who don't view themselves primarily as victims of racism.) But it's actually the liberal women's groups that have little in common with the majority of American women.
And if faith and feminism weren't rousing enough, Palin goes after moviemakers as well, specifically those responsible for “American Beauty” — a film that she insists idolizes apathy and drug use. The one cinematic work she cheers — “Juno” — she does with backhanded glee:
A European movie might have had Juno get her abortion in the opening scene and then spend the next hour and fifteen minutes smoking cigarettes and pondering the meaning of life. It would have been depressing and boring. Not here. Americans want to be entertained, but we also want to see people do the right thing, even when it's hard and there is no prospect of being rewarded. Hooray for some in Hollywood for occasionally letting us see that.
Perhaps the most defining feature of “America by Heart” is Palin's capacity to boil down complicated political battles into pure political simplicity. The Cold War, for example, was won because “the differences between the United States and the Soviet Union were real — and consequential” and “one of those differences was a belief in God.” Opposition to an Islamic Cultural Center in downtown Manhattan, meanwhile, was hardly an exercise in religious intolerance. “[I]t's what our Founders called ‘a decent respect for the opinions of mankind' — or in this case their fellow Americans.” America's problems, in the end, are partially due to the fact that “we may be creating a generation of entitled little whiners.”
There is a conviction to the text. And reading it, one gets the sense that Palin sees herself as a truth teller within a political system built on cynicism. That said, “America by Heart” is hardly introspective. Relatively little of the work is devoted to, what has been, an eventful and tumultuous two years for the former Alaska Governor — a period that included leaving her job, becoming a media star, a Tea Party figurehead, and a force of remarkable significance within her party. The book seems all about the future, with the one bit of self-reflection occurring towards the end:
Had I listened to those who suggested it would be political suicide to hand the Governor's reigns over to my lieutenant governor entering my lame duck last year in office — a choice I made so that I could fight for Alaska, and America, more effectively in a different venue — then my state would have suffered from the obstruction and paralysis of my office by the politically motivated attacks that began the day I was announced as the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008.
Had I listened to the politicos (even some within my own political action committee) and shied away from endorsing candidates I knew were best for America — people such as Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, Doug Hoffman, Joe Miller and Karen Handel — I wouldn't have been using my position in the best interests of the country I love.