At a recent New Hampshire tea party rally, Sarah Palin spoke of the regulatory burdens on the area’s Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative, a group that she compared to “our own commercial fishing family.” Back in June, on a previous trip to New Hampshire, she said, “Well, commercial fishing is near and dear to my heart of course. You know, having fished for so many years. And I understand fish politics. I understand what these fishermen are going through.”
But an open records request by The Awl found that Palin, once again, failed to apply for a license to fish in Alaska this season. The request follows our report from earlier this year that revealed that Palin had only secured commercial fishing licenses for fewer than half of all the years she’s claimed to have been in the business.
Palin will continue to pass herself off as a hardcore commercial fisher despite clear evidence to the contrary. But for some time now, profiles and criticism of Palin have become far more about the profiler and the audience than Mama Grizzly herself. Then again, as Palin herself once wrote, “Never hurts to rumormonger.”
Hitting what few bookshelves are left in America today is The Rogue: Searching For The Real Sarah Palin. What new information the book offers is not in its title as, currently, Amazon lists five other books about Palin with “rogue” in the title, not even including Palin’s own Going Rogue: An American Life. Sure, Joe McGinniss’ The Rogue is a hatchet job, but it’s performed with a high quality Alaskan made-in-the-USA hatchet—built to last. For those whose own happiness comes from despising both Palin and her variety of unintellectual flyover dope, the book offers a wealth of fossil fuels. Drill baby, drill.
The Rogue is mean. Mean and uncivil and ruthless. In that sense, it is the biography Sarah Palin deserves, but it won’t hurt her. The former governor has now passed into a realm where those who despise her will do so for life, and where her most ardent fans have invested so much, and believed so hard, it’s now necessary to go to the grave on her side.
To those whose first presidential memories are of George Bush Part 1, that voting Americans once got their knickers in a bunch over the one-time marijuana use of Bill Clinton must seem like it’s from an era with separate drinking fountains for blacks, suffrage, or when men had those separate collars they slipped onto their shirt-necks. But the Clinton episode was just 19 years ago.
Just how fast did popular opinion on presidential drug use change? Every commander in chief since Clinton has at least tried cocaine, and nobody cares. That The Rogue reveals that Palin did as well will surprise nobody.
The more subtle condemnation The Rogue makes in its coke revelation is that she did it off an overturned oil drum, an act so stereotypically Alaskan hillbilly that if it weren’t real, “South Park” would have to do a sketch on it.
And when it comes to the more raunchy details, everyone has focused on Palin sleeping naked, or the affair, or the Glen Rice fling. But the most damningly redneck revelation is how Sarah’s future husband saw himself. Todd, the book claims, wooed women with lines about a “great heart-shaped ass,” a come-on he probably lifted from Mickey Rourke, whose character used it to describe Kim Basinger in 9½ Weeks back in 1986.
This all misses the point that conservative voters just don’t care about youthful transgressions, largely because the reborn social conservative of today is vastly different from the permanently repressed social conservative of just 20 years ago (when Bill Clinton “didn’t inhale”). Nowhere is this better represented than in the Episcopalian subscription of George H. W. Bush and the evangelical faith of his son, George W. Bush.
Social conservatives today have no problem supporting candidates with sordid histories because those candidates are simply echoes of the voters themselves. It’s hard to be pure and young in America today. But just because you had a young and wild life doesn’t mean you can’t grow up to “recover” from (and then be hypocritically self-righteous against) the life you once led. It’s something that began when evangelicals realized they could write new rules for who is and who is not allowed to be a legitimate politician when they took a recovering alcoholic and all-around basket case and said, “Him. Yeah, that guy!”
In essence, the electorate looked at conventional wisdom on politicians and drew themselves into the picture. Overnight, they turned politicians from a group of guys nothing at all like their own reformed deadbeat asses to a group of guys just like their own reformed deadbeat asses. A look at the current slate of banner-carrying hard right darlings and dynamos proves that “recovery” is practically a resume requirement.
• Rick Perry worked not just for any Democrat, but for GOP boogeyman Al Gore (not to mention he was a state secessionist who is now running for President).
• Michele Bachmann campaigned for Jimmy Carter and today spins her former service to (what the Tea Party considers) the most evil organization imaginable, the IRS, as “know thy enemy.”
• Propaganda minister Andrew Breitbart? Former Democrat.
• Mike Huckabee has called himself a “recovering foodaholic” and made his struggles with food a core appeal of his personality.
• In Wisconsin’s recent recalls, it was revealed that evangelical Tea Party candidate Kim Simac had engaged in some kind of wife (husband?) swapping arrangement with another couple, but her base did not care. (What they did care about was that she had not been paying her taxes.)
• And Newt Gingrich’s 237 previous wives don’t hurt him with the GOP’s new base; his unwillingness to debase himself about it does. (See also: Rudy Giuliani.) He only needs to pull up his flimsy metal folding chair and say, “I am Newt Gingrich and I am a wifeaholic.” His poll numbers would jump 15 points overnight, a night which he would probably spend sleeping on the couch. (But, Newt, do you want to win or be liked by your family?)
At the CNN-Tea Party debate, Perry’s ability to loudly admit his own former policies were “a mistake,” and to look confident and macho doing so: this was a thing not possible for a Republican presidential candidate 20 years ago. This is a demographic that gold sellers carefully looked at, and then chose as a trustworthy advertising spokesman G. Gordon Liddy. (G. Gordon Liddy!)
Further revelations about Palin, no matter how leering or vile, will do her no harm. She’s born again. She needn’t even address the most recent accusations, because her followers all understand. They too all once snorted cocaine off some overturned oil drum with a bunch of drunk guys playing grab-ass with them, and they too wanted more for themselves, something better. What are you gonna do at the age of 22 in goddamn Alaska?
Meanwhile, The Rogue shares much in common with Nick Broomfield’s documentary, You Betcha!, due in limited release Sept 30th.
Both insert the journalists as characters in a pursuit of the Palin truth. Each make the trials of getting the scoop on her both a part of the story and a sly indictment against her—as if all other politicians were open books constantly inviting “journalists” to diary-reading parties in their Capitol Hill bedrooms. The cover of McGinniss’ book even features his name in larger type than Palin’s, as if it was another Tom Clancy novel. A former Seal of some kind from Worcester, Mass., whose best days are behind him, has to use his wiles and cunning to track down intelligence on an elusive domestic terrorist. But will he publish the truth, and cash in, before she becomes culturally irrelevant? You won’t be able to put it down… without also taking a shower.
For Broomfield’s part, what he brings to bear on Mama Grizzly might be considered the third installment of his American Women trilogy, joining his films Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer and Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam.
But what’s the point? McGinniss has gone on record that 90% of what he learned isn’t even in the book, which makes the author both the world’s greatest receptacle of Palin trivia and its most potentially insufferable dinner guest. McGinniss says he decided what was true and what was questionable simply based on decades of journalism (and meetings in Starbucks with bloggers). Known technically in the industry as “winging it,” this approach to fact checking is often used by seasoned journalists, including legends like Dan Rather.
Why not? Everyone’s winging it. Publishing his own book on the same day as McGinniss, Levi Johnston says he fell into “an unintended role in America’s most delicious drama.” There are compensations, however. Palin’s daughter Bristol has also already cashed in. Willow and Track cannot be far behind.
Meanwhile, America continues to idly wonder if Palin will run for something or other. She’s caught between a rock and hard rat race. If she doesn’t run, she risks irrelevance. But a Palin campaign could be even more damaging, as she would face her own party—a foe against which almost none of her rhetorical weapons will work.
Worst of all, though, would be a Palin campaign victory of some kind, where she would face the personal disaster of governing—an unwelcome fate that has, of late, eaten everyone attempting it.
But right now, in the eyes of her core supporters, Palin remains beautiful, meaningful, worthy. Listening to Palin’s supporters at a rally or touring her Facebook page’s comments is to wander into a world so free from reality and doubt it that can probably only be compared with North Korea.
In a few years though, when Palin’s Dorian Gray lurches into the sitting room and looks at those closest to her, she’s likely to find the devastating picture of spiritual and familial disfigurement, as rendered by projects like The Rogue. But by then it will be too late.