Reading Sarah Palin Live, with Rudolph Delson: Part Two

Sunday, November 22, 7:34am: Good morning. Today I will read another two hundred pages of Sarah Palin. (To hear about the first two hundred pages, click here.)

But, may I tell you about my dream? Because I just awoke from this dream. There was a broad blue sky, streaked with clouds. And there was a giant head set against that sky. And the head was speaking to me. I have attached an image of it after the jump.

Samuel Johnson

Yes, last night I dreamed of Samuel Johnson. Hold on, let me eat breakfast.

. . .

8:15am: We know why HarperCollins wanted to publish this book: Because enough Americans are curious to read what Sarah might possibly write that HarperCollins could pay Palin an advance of $5,000,000 and still make a profit on the venture.

We know why Sarah Palin wrote this book: Because HarperCollins paid her $5,000,000, and because she wants to vindicate herself in the public mind. (And, as I realized yesterday to my wonder, because she believes we might actually vote for her.)

And we know why we want to read it: Because we are curious to read what Sarah Palin might possibly write.

It is a perfect system of human gratification. And so, with the publication of Going Rogue, millions of pounds of pollution have once again been heaved upon the earth in order to make us Americans happy. Three hundred years from now, there will be no wild salmon on earth, but there will be copies of Going Rogue. And so what will humanity find in this book, in the year 2309, that is better than a salmon?

This reminds me that I must eat breakfast. And I still haven’t told you about my dream.

. . .

8:22am: Samuel Johnson was born three hundred years ago this year. He wrote a dictionary that is still in print, and that is better than a salmon. In my dream, he said to me:

The mischievous consequences of vice and folly, of irregular desires and predominant passions, are best discovered by those relations which are leveled with the general surface of life, which tell not how any man became great, but how he was made happy; not how he lost the favor of his prince, but how he became discontented with himself.

Such are the incomprehensible dreams a fellow has after reading two hundred pages of plain talkin’. Dr. Johnson continued:

Those relations are therefore commonly of most value in which the writer tells his own story.

There was more to the dream. But I still haven’t eaten breakfast. And I still have not begun the second half of Palin.

. . .

9:42am: Over breakfast, I see that the New York Times is covering Sarah Palin’s book tour like a political campaign; I see that the New York Times has chosen this week to review a history of the memoir. Me? I do not read this article, this review. Me? I eat my eggs and my toast, and I sulk.

. . .

9:50am: Part Three of Going Rogue begins on page 209, with Palin flying to Flagstaff, Arizona to be vetted by John McCain. In Flagstaff she meets Steve Schmidt, the archetypal political lieutenant, the consummate political athlete, the man running McCain’s campaign. Palin cannot hide her awe and her respect. She has spent 208 pages boasting about how her entire political career has been built on avoiding experts and insiders and players, how her campaigns have been scrappy and homegrown and homespun and grassroots and organic and Alaska and real. It is, as they say, hogwash, but it is her hogwash. And now, on page 209, without flinching, she casts it aside. She meets Schmidt, and she does all she can to please him.

Structurally, it is very impressive. We are the precise middlepoint of the book, and Palin has sold out.

. . .

10:01am: Page 216. Palin tells Schmidt that she has nothing against the lesbians, one of her best friends is lesbian. But, she tells Schmidt, she opposes gay marriage-or, as Palin calls it “homosexual marriage.” The reader can only wonder whether Palin has ever asked how her lesbian best friend feels about the word “homosexual.”

. . .

10:06am: Page 219. Palin says, apropos evolution:

I needed the [McCain campaign staff] to know they weren’t going to put words in my mouth on this issue. I would go with them reasonably to a nuanced position, based on facts.

And her “nuanced position, based on facts”?

I didn’t believe that human beings-thinking, loving beings-originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

Let me summarize Palin’s nuanced position, then. She does not believe she needs to understand anything about evolutionary science in order to have an opinion about evolutionary science. But that is my summary. Here is hers:

I wouldn’t parrot a politically correct line just because some voting bloc might get upset.

The foggy mystery of Palin’s popularity burns off sometimes; sometimes I am able to see in bright light why she is beloved. She is beloved because she willing to tell Americans that just because they are ignorant does not mean they are wrong.

. . .

10:29am: Page 223. We have reached the moment in Palin’s story when McCain announces that she will be his running mate. McCain and Palin are about to appear together for the first time, in Dayton, Ohio:

I was so humbled and honored, so thankful, and so ready to get on the trail with the campaign. Now the crowd’s roar poured backstage like a powerful locomotive.

I believe this may be art. I believe we are meant to read “locomotive” and think “train wreck” and “derailment.”

. . .

10:36am: Still page 223, still Dayton, Ohio:

Glancing out through the end of the tunnel, I could see the crowd, and flashes of red, white and blue. John [McCain]‘s blue-and-gold posters, emblazoned with his campaign slogan, “Country First,” rippled in the stands.
I was proud of the senator. He is so bold, so out of the box, I thought.
He didn’t go with a conventional, safer pick. John believed in change, the power of independent and committed individuals, the power of women.

Yes. On the very same slippery page that Palin claims to have been “so humbled” to be nominated, she expresses the ultimate pride. What makes John McCain great? That he was bold enough to pick her to be his Vice President.

(That said, it is not an unprecedented sentiment; Geraldine Ferraro said much the same of Fritz Mondale; but Geraldine Ferraro comes across as less of a naïf; by 1984 she and her colleagues had been arguing for almost two years that the Democrats must nominate a woman. Anyway, when a veep claims to be “so humbled,” never believe her, or him.)

. . .

11:16am: Page 237:

The Bristol story was a different matter. After news broke of her pregnancy, the media train jumped the truth track in record time

All together now: I’ve been working on the railroad, all the live long day …

. . .

11:31am One of the great tropes of vice-presidential literature is the lament of the supporting actor. Every vice-presidential contender who writes a memoir writes about the humiliation of having their own words edited by headquarters, every one writes of the frustration of having their deed preempted by headquarters. “If they had let me run the campaign I wanted to run, I could have won; but they wouldn’t let me do it; I was only the veep!” Every man and woman in history who has run for Vice President has been cut up by the national press; and every one of them thinks they were the first, thinks they had it the worst.

Palin is no exception. Where she is exceptional is in her lack of empathy.

. . .

11:38am: Because here, on page 242, she recounts her speech to the Republican National Convention, and in particular she recounts her line: “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.” I remember how Palin delivered that line; I remember the derision in her voice; and I remember the pleasure she took in her own derision; she was trying to insult Barack Obama, and she liked herself for having insulted him.

It is breathtaking, then, to hear what she has to say, in Going Rogue, about that particular line of her speech:

Applause erupted again, a shout-out to independent-minded American who didn’t look to government for all the answers.

I believe she is saying that small-town mayors are not part of the government, but that community organizers are.

I was so proud at that moment because I knew that even though the other ticket had looked down on my small-town mayor creds, the convention delegates clearly knew that national leaders are nurtured in the cradle of local service. There are only a few hundred people in Congress making “big” decisions, but tens of thousands of hardworking mayors and council members and commissioners and volunteers who keep this nation functioning every day. They, not Congress, keep the roads paved and the sewers running and the schools open and the police force trained and firefighters equipped. Small-town involvement isn’t something to be scorned; it’s something to be upheld as the foundation of what makes this country great.

Why did Palin scorn Barack Obama’s community involvement? Because she believes that community involvement isn’t something to be scorned. And why does Palin believe that Americans don’t look to government for the answers? Because she believes that Americans instead look to mayors and council members and commissioners and Departments of Transportation and Departments of Sanitation and Departments of Education and Police Departments and Fire Departments for answers.

. . .

11:54am: Yesterday there were moments when I enjoyed reading Palin; today, for me, she is despicable.

. . .

12:43pm: I am determined to be at page 300 before lunch. The book has settled into a slow replay of everything I remember from the autumn of 2008, as retold by someone who never watched the news.

. . .

12:46pm: Palin cannot refer to someone who has Down syndrome without using either the adjective “special” or “precious.” “These precious people,” she calls children with Down syndrome. A “very special community,” she calls the community with Down syndrome. Once, on page 251, she varies her formula. “These amazing people.” And then it’s back to “special” and “precious.”

She also likes to remind her readers that all that Down syndrome amounts to is an extra chromosome; I agree with her; that is a good fact to remember. Still, it is baffling that someone who is so impressed with the “special,” “precious,” and “amazing” difference that a single chromosome can make does not believe in evolution.

. . .

1:02pm: Vulgarity! How, if you are Sarah Palin, do you handle vulgarity?

Page 238: “Bullcrap.”
Page 282: “B.S.”
Page 282: “Dang it.”
Page 228: “This is f****d up!”
Page 279: “[M]y children looked out the windows of the Suburban and saw people wearing T-shirts that said lovely things like ‘Sarah Palin is a C—.'”

So that’s one kind of vulgarity that Palin, as an author, must handle. And here is how she handles the other kind of vulgarity:

Page 221: “I looked up to see Cindy [McCain] walking down from the house to join us. She is one of the most striking women I’ve ever seen, and that day she reminded me of one of those perfect, elegant moms on a 1950s TV show: a sleeveless dress, a little sweater, not a hair out of place. So petite and pretty, with those intense blue eyes.

. . .

1:10pm: It has occurred to me who, in America, would be the ideal reviewer for this book. It must be someone like Palin herself: someone somewhat politically stupid, someone somewhat politically infamous, someone bent on remaking herself as bright and good. The ideal reviewer for this book is Monica Lewinsky.

. . .

1:21pm: Page 286. Senator Joe Lieberman, ex-Democrat and ex-vice-presidential candidate, has a private talk with Sarah Palin. Anyone care to guess what he tells her?

. . .

1:41pm: “God is going to see you through this,” Senator Lieberman said. “Just put your faith in Him and let Him take care of it.”

. . .

1:43pm: Palin is describing her preparations for the debate with Joe Biden. She describes, on page 287, the McCain staffer who plays the role of Biden in the mock debates:

[H]e had the senator’s voice down pat, including some of his semifolksy sayings (“As my mom used to say, ‘God love ya, Joe, but you are wrong!‘”).

Being called “semifolksy” by Sarah Palin is a dire insult indeed. Just before the debate itself, Palin prays:

I wanted to say that my heart’s desire was that our Lord would guide my words in a way that would be truthful and honoring to Him. But I said, as simply as I could, “Just pray we win the debate.”

And then she waits to go on camera, and spots Joe Biden across the stage:

I had never met him before, but now I tried to catch his eye, to give him, I don’t know, a friendly nod, a thumbs-up, something to acknowledge that, hey, ultimately we’re all on the same team. Go, U.S.A.! But Senator Biden didn’t make eye contact.
Instead he looked past me. His features then hardened into what can only be described as a “game face.” I could respect that. I knew what it was like to get into a zone before a big game.
Then the senator started to stretch. Literally.
He put his hands on his hips and, staring grimly at some point behind me, began to bend at the waist, bouncing first to the right, then to the left. Then the neck rolls started, presumably to get ride of all that nasty tension from being the front-runner. After that, the senator from Delaware began stretching his quads, grabbing his dress shoe and pulling it behind his designer-suited rear end. Right leg, then left.

This is vice-presidential literature at its finest. If only Palin always wrote so well.

. . .

Joe Biden

. . .

2:07pm I quote from page 300:

Kid Rock, for instance, is very pro-America and has common sense ideas.

. . .

2:23pm: On page 304, Joe the Plumber and socialism; on page 306, Bill Ayers and palling around with terrorists; on page 308, Tina Fey and SNL

Reading these names, reading Palin’s memories of the incidents that made those names famous, I realize now that I was wrong yesterday to say that Sarah Palin was a character from Cervantes, that she was Sancho Panza. No, I recognize Sarah Palin now. She is a character from Eudora Welty. Sarah Palin is a Chisom. I quote from The Optimist’s Daughter:

Laurel closed her eyes, in recognition of what had made the Chisoms seem familiar to her. They might have come out of that night in the hospital waiting room-out of all times of trouble, past of future-the great, interrelated family of those who never know the meaning of what has happened to them.

That is Sarah Palin.

. . .

2:59pm: Page 322. It is late in the 2008 campaign. Palin is preparing a speech on “the special needs community.” But the McCain campaign has hired “a special needs coordinator.” And “the special needs coordinator” calls Palin “to say we should no longer use the term ‘special needs people’ because special needs families find it offensive.”

. . .

3:03pm: Page 327. Palin receives a call from Nicolas Sarkozy. Except it is not Nicolas Sarkozy, it is a pair of Canadian comedians. Quoth Palin:

That’s when the merde hit the fan.

Eighty-odd pages to go. How many more euphemisms can she find for shit?

. . .

3:21pm: If you ignore the Acknowledgments and the Postscript (which is written by one Dewey Whetsell), Going Rogue ends on page 403. And yet Sarah Palin and John McCain have lost the election as of page 339. Her thoughts?

It had been the most spectacular ride-a roller coaster, yes, but we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat-and we’d learned some lessons along the way.

What sorts of lessons?

… once-in-a-lifetime life lessons all across the country.

Such are the sentiments expressed in this book, this memoir devoid of memory. And what are my thoughts, upon reaching page 339? Well, I am thinking of my dream last night, in which Samuel Johnson also said to me:

I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful. For, not only every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients, would be of immediate and apparent use; but there is such an uniformity of the state of man, considered apart from adventitious and separable decorations and disguises, that there is scarce any possibility of good or ill, but it is common to human kind.

Thus, the failure of Going Rogue as literature. Except at the rarest moments … the chapter when Sarah first meets Todd, the chapter when the Palins first hear of the Down syndrome diagnosis, the chapter when Palin meets Biden … when you subtract the “adventitious and separable decorations and disguises,” there is nothing left. This book is not about “the state of man;” this is a book about “once-in-a-lifetime life lessons.”

It is now 3:38 pm. I have sixty-four pages still to read. I’ll be back online by 6pm in Brooklyn to finish off this judicious and faithful narrative, this piece of merde, this can of peas.

. . .

5:12pm: Night is falling on Brooklyn.

. . .

5:44pm: Page 356. Palin has returned home to Alaska, and the national press has followed her. She describes the petty stories, the petty vendettas; she describes how cranks from all across Alaska, enjoying the post-election patronage of rich liberal Sarah haters from the Lower 48, began filing ethics complaints against her as Governor. All of these complaints were frivolous, Palin assures us; none of them were meritorious; it was all part of a massize left-wing conspiracy to destroy her capacity to govern. It is enough to drive a memoirist to cuss:

What a bass-ackwards way of doing the people’s business

. . .

6:18pm Between pages 370 and 371 are some sixteen pages of photographs. (Palin’s parents with Henry Kissinger! Palin’s kids in voting booths!)

This brings to sixty-seven the total number of photographs in the book. Permit me some further mathematics. Going Rogue is 408 pages long, with a maximum of 32 lines per page, or, at most, some 13,000 lines long. There are roughly ten words per line, so, discounting for the occasional section of dialog and discounting for chapter breaks, the book must be about 125,000 words long. Using the same algorithm, Joe and Hadassah Lieberman together wrote 76,000 words for An Amazing Adventure, and Richard Nixon wrote 210,000 words for Six Crises. In the scheme of things, midway between the Liebermans and Nixon seems like a fine place for Palin to be.

. . .

6:36pm Page 371. I just realized! Palin has yet to mention Levi Johnston by name.

. . .

6:39pm Pages 356 through 360 are dreary. Palin pretends to recount a conversation with Bristol about the Obama stimulus plan. The last time a Republican sounded this juvenile in comparison to Obama was when Bobby Jindal responded to the State of the Union. Palin, at her purest, writes:

I thought of the long road ahead for Bristol and Tripp. She’d be fine because she was independent and strong and loved to work, and I loved her and her cousin Lauden’s enthusiastic plans to own coffee shops as a side business while they were busy going to school and growing up. But Bristol and Tripp wouldn’t be fine if pandering politicians buffaloed Americans into believing some utopian promise that big government could “fix” everything through more of the same meddling that had caused the economic failure in the first place.

That last sentence is dumbfounding. Rather than work the math, rather than count the errors in that sentence, let me just ask: To whom is Palin pandering? To whom are her promises addressed? Who is the person literate enough to parse the syntax, yet illiterate enough to believe the semantics? Or is it, in the end, only sounds that matter? Are we all only waiting to recognize the song on the mix tape (LL Cool J! Black Eyed Peas!) so we can yowl along?

. . .

6:52pm: Thirty pages left. All weekend I have felt anxious, exasperated, but a stillness has come over me now. From the apartment below me and beside me I hear television, dinners. But in my soul all is quiet. Sarah is whispering to me, softly, softly.

. . .

7:03pm Page 377. Palin resigns. I, too, am ready to resign.

. . .

7:20pm Page 393. Palin is laying out a political program for America, a Commonsense Conservative program. To me is sounds like a whisper. It is soft, it is soft.

. . .

7:29pm Page 400. Palin has mentioned Ronald Reagan a dozen times in the last dozen pages. I believe she believes she is a Ronald Reagan. It is ever softer, it is ever softer.

. . .

7:33pm In my dream last night, Samuel Johnson said to me, “There are few things not purely evil of which we can say without some emotion of uneasiness ‘this is the last.'” Every time we come to the end of anything, it reminds us that time has passed, that time may never be regained, that we are mortal.

This is one reason we are reluctant to let Sarah Palin leave the national stage. When we have seen the last of Sarah Palin, it means we are that much closer to the day on which we must die.

And so I conclude her memoir.

. . .

7:37pm: But we must not end on a morbid note. To the contrary. In all things vice-presidentially literary, there is great cause for hope. Hold on a moment. I must upload the visage of hope.

. . .

Coming to bookstores in 2011.

Coming to bookstores in 2011.

. . .

Goodnight.