Going Rogue: an American life, By Sarah Palin

Off the leash at last: the pitbull bites back in style
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

To describe Sarah Palin, the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate (failed), as a divisive figure would be an understatement. Once the surprise of her nomination had worn off, Americans and Europeans loved her or loathed her. Mostly, on this side of the Atlantic, they loathed her. And as John McCain's campaign increasingly seemed doomed, a consensus formed that it was all her fault.

Going Rogue is her answer. Given her international reputation as a dangerously ideological airhead and the generally dire standard of much political biography, you might be inclined to run a mile before picking up this book. In fact, it is not nearly as insubstantial an account as you might expect.

It is not incompetent. It is not appallingly written. It is not, for the most part, a dry political tract. It has a sprinkling of the sort of God references beloved of the American right, but not as many as you might fear, and a similar quotient of the sort of down-home folksiness that Europeans find off-putting. But it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it is no more self-serving than other beleaguered politicians' accounts of themselves.

It has its dramas. Some are personal: when she discovers, as state governor, that she is pregnant at 43 and that the child (her fifth) will have Down's syndrome; and when her teenage daughter reveals she is pregnant. Others are political. The woman whose quip about "lipstick" being the only difference between a "hockey mom" and a pitbull became her tagline has something to say, and she goes all out and says it. Good for her.

It is a reflection of the damage done by her participation in the presidential campaign that Palin has been subsequently shown such universal condescension. This is undeserved. When selected by McCain, she had an impressive career behind her, with much of the American dream about it. Not quite as much, perhaps, as Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, but a decent measure none the less.

She grew up in Alaska as an all-American sporty outdoorswoman. She worked her way through college, graduated in journalism and won her spurs in the man's world of sports presenting. She married a man of Native American descent, entered local politics as an indignant housewife and mother, was elected to the town council and to two terms as mayor, and then as Alaska's first female Governor.

In each election – and it should be stressed that was elected to each post she occupied after campaigning as an outsider - she took on a host of vested interests, including the male establishment of "good ol' boys", the Democrats and Big Oil. Generally she won: through hard work, attention to detail, and a fierce sense of purpose. The elevation of Palin to Vice-Presidential candidate has been made to look flighty. But it was not by chance that she came to the notice of the McCain campaign. Had things been different – had the financial crisis not eclipsed national security in voters' minds, had McCain run a stronger campaign - there might have been quite another outcome.

One of Palin's purposes is to address specific accusations made against her as candidate. Some seem petty, such as the expensive wardrobe, but clearly got to her. Others are more weighty, such as the hopeless performance in an interview with Katie Couric that had her branded naïve and ill-informed.

As she tells it, she could have done infinitely better had she not been effectively "caged" by her handlers. While generous to McCain himself, she is vicious about members of his team, whom she accuses of making her the scapegoat. She has her reputation to defend, but who is to say she is wrong?

Palin's resignation as Governor of Alaska this summer mystified many. Her explanation is the witch-hunt she says was launched against her family, including her children, and a reluctance to run up more debts to defend herself against malevolent ethics lawsuits. This is not to say that the irrepressible Sarah Palin will not be back.

She combines some of the most admirable features of America: self-reliance, fierce regional patriotism, community spirit and a strong sense of family. Her approach to politics is drawn not from the school of the privileged and ideological George Bush, but from her memories of the commonsensical Ronald Reagan. Before reading her defence, I doubted she would return to mainstream politics, still less to the presidential trail. Now, I am not so sure. One of Alaska's US Senate seats is up for grabs next year. Could the "pitbull with lipstick" make it hers?