A Non-Reader's Guide to Sarah Palin's "America by Heart"

by Jordan Carr

Palin comes out firing with the controversial claims. For instance: Calvin Coolidge is “one of our most overlooked presidents.” Doesn’t Glenn Beck hold a patent on making it seem like the people who held power right before the Great Depression were American heroes? Sarah also makes reference to “my beautiful grandbaby.”

The introduction ends with this rather disturbing mission statement: “This is my America, from my heart, and by my heart. I give it now to my children and grandchildren, and to yours, so they will always know what it was like in America when people were free.” (Just for starters, this presumes that there will still be books in this near future when people are no longer free.)

Best line: “I have a kind of internal compass that keeps me sane and grounded when the media attack dogs bark and the days on the road get long.” This metaphor is more mixed than a cement mixer at a singles mixer.

Chapter One — We The People

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the kind of “happily, unabashedly pro-American” movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. For those unfamiliar, the movie is the story of an unelected Senator’s effort to saddle our children with debt by taking out a federal loan to buy some land for an exclusionary special interest to set up a boys’ camp.

A study in contrasts: Sarah is “obsessed with constitutional theory,” whereas progressives want “Supreme Court justices who will violate their oath of office.”

The chapter gets going when the topic moves to race. You can tell we are going to have an open, honest discussion on the topic when Sarah writes, “The worst thing you can say about a fellow American in politics is that he is a racist. It just doesn’t get any more damning than this accusation.”

Sarah remembers the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act and asks, “Wouldn’t it be more constructive to celebrate these great achievements instead of dwelling obsessively on the problems that made them necessary in the first place?” These days, Americans are too busy to be racists. Still, “It’s a shame that not everyone wants to quote Dr. King these days.” She then (I’m guessing here) kicked a can, put her hands in the pockets of her denim overalls, twirled a big toe on the ground and sighed.

On the Civil War: “Hundreds of thousands of Americans died, but slavery finally died with them. And in an important and overlooked way, our Founders began this painful process.” To be clear, she’s praising the Founders — she capitalizes that way throughout the book, as if they were a minor league baseball team or something — for helping start a war that took place after they were all dead over a horrible institution they enshrined in law. Awesome.

Best line: “Thomas Jefferson … owned slaves and may have had a sexual relationship with one of them.”

Two — Why They Serve

As this chapter’s title shows, Palin is in the awkward position of trying to take credit for being troop-friendly without ever having been one herself. It’s a little Chris Farley Show-esque.

Her son Track (a troop, himself!) gave up his seat on a flight home on September 11, 2009 to accommodate a fellow soldier who had a medical scare, which forced him to spend an additional month in Iraq waiting for another flight. (Or did he?)

Iraq War movies bombed (sorry) because they were anti-American, but no opinions on the actual Iraq War are offered. Oh, and John McCain called one of the North Vietnamese guards in his POW camp “The Prick.”

Best line: “Believe me, nobody is more demanding when it comes to going to war than our military moms. If you’re going to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way, you’d better have a pretty good reason.” For context, here’s the time she pretty much endorsed bombing Iran.

Three — America the Exceptional

America’s awesome. There, I said it. And nobody disagreed? We can move on, right? Nope, this chapter stretches for 29 more pages.

To prove this point further, Palin quotes Charles Murray, the co-author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, which most famously drew some controversial conclusions regarding intelligence and race. Is this a clever ploy to win over the important racial-eugenicist market, or am I reading too much into this?

Best line: “I wish [Milton Friedman] and his wife, Rose were still with us today to defend free market principles from the likes of Michael Moore.”

Four — Raising (Small-r) Republicans

Sarah Palin runs off a litany of Bristol’s activities from her high school days, then says, “she was doing all that, thankfully, so she would be too busy for anything else — or so I deluded myself.” So, the claim is that Bristol had just enough time to have a boyfriend, but not enough to ever have sex with him. This is not entirely believable.

For those of you keeping score at home, Palin has claimed that Americans are too busy to be racist, and she thought her daughter was too busy to have sex. Idle hands (no Devon Sawa) are the devil’s playground and everything, but will even Sarah Palin SuperFans buy this reasoning?

I’m not saying this book has a lot of filler, but on pages 99–100, she runs a lengthy excerpt of an Onion article.

Warning: If people saying insensitive things about Hurricane Katrina bums you out, just skip the next paragraph of Sarah Palin’s thoughts on the topic and rejoin when we’re discussing Murphy Brown.

“Hurricane Katrina revealed something other than government incompetence. It revealed a population of Americans dependent on government and incapacitated by the destruction of the American family.” And what was the difference between many areas of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans? “In many cases, the difference was strong, intact families.”

Bringing up the Murphy Brown/Dan Quayle thing like this reminds me of a five-year-old protecting a classmate from a bully, only the five-year-old doesn’t realize that the victim was was not being mocked for his support of two-parent households so much as his decision to dedicate a speech to attacking a fictional character — the analogy falls apart a little at the end. It’s cute that she tried to defend him, but ultimately pretty silly and pointless.

Palin addresses how Murphy Brown relates to her own family situation, but misses the point again when she says that people mock Bristol’s newfound support of abstinence as hypocritical. The bigger thing — as the argument against abstinence-only education always has been — is that it’s unrealistic. If even playing basketball, chairing the Junior Prom Committee and working in a coffee shop couldn’t doesn’t guarantee abstinence, what will?

In other Bristol news, “she engaged in an uplifting, family-oriented show called Dancing with the Stars.”

Best line is this magnificent segue that follows the Palin family update section: “But while my family has been growing and developing, America and the American family have been under almost continuous assault.”

Five — Rise of the Mama Grizzlies

Women: You get a chapter! You get a chapter! You get a chapter! All of womankind gets a chapter!

Palin goes from referring to herself as “an Alaskan chick” to being really angry that in 1993, people were saying more women get beat on Super Bowl Sunday to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis in a matter of eight pages. The takeaway: some people think being a feminist requires also being a liberal, but those people are wrong, and quite possibly advocates of Nazi-like eugenics.

Best line: “But if they thought pit bulls with lipstick were tough, wait until they meet a mama grizzly.” Only four more chapters.

Six — Are We Really the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For?

Spoiler alert: no. We are not. Palin talks about how great it was when John F. Kennedy set a goal for America to land on the moon. It was optimistic, utopian, and didn’t really offer a lot in the way of practical benefits. This is somehow infinitely more admirable than trying to insure every American.

Then there’s a bit where she blasts Barack Obama for downplaying America’s greatness in a way that will not “inspire my kids and other American kids to work hard and dream big.” Oh yeah? Well, Barack Obama’s stock autograph for children is “Dream Big Dreams.” So there.

There’s a heartwarming (seriously) story about how when she was training for a marathon, her eldest son Track, then sixteen, would drive her route ahead of her so that he could leave water bottles and encouraging notes at every mile. Isn’t that nice? That’s nice!

But then I reread the passage and wondered: water bottles? Maybe it was just one? Nope, she says she ran “water bottle to water bottle,” and that she was training for a marathon. Were there days where she was either throwing away or carrying around 20 water bottles? Would Track have to drive around after she was finished and pick up all the water bottles she had discarded? Somehow this is the biggest betrayal of trust and narrative in the whole book.

Sarah Palin is a character in NBA Jam, but so far as I can tell, she is not in NBA Live, and if she were, her awareness rating would have to be like a 3. My evidence? Her second memoir in two years includes the sentence, “I believe in a humbler, less self-involved America.”

Best line: “We may be creating an entire generation of entitled little whiners.”

Seven — The Indispensable Support of Freedom

This chapter is about freedom, by which she means freedom of religion, by which she means public, state-sanctioned displays of religion. She tells the tale of how John F. Kennedy had to go before the American people and basically promise not to let the Pope run America, and is dismayed that this is the way things used to be, but now they’re better. Anyway, she takes the opportunity to dance on Ted Kennedy’s grave: “It is perhaps not surprising … that his brother Ted Kennedy would go on to have a long career advocating positions directly at odds with his Catholic faith (which was by all accounts sincere).”

Boy, wasn’t it great when Mitt Romney didn’t pull a JFK? He insisted that his religion mattered to him. And he’s not just a Catholic, he’s a full-fledged, magic underpants, non-swearing Mormon. From Massachusetts. Did I mention he’s a Mormon from Massachusetts? And good for him for not being ashamed of it. Great guy.

Best line: “Lincoln did not presume to know which side God favored in the Civil War.”

Eight — I Hear America Praying (I promise I didn’t make this up)

Only three pages into this one, and we’re already quoting Newt Gingrich on morality. Not a good sign.

In the last chapter, we learned how religion in the public sphere is increasingly accepted to the point where we expect our politicians to publicly affirm rather than deny their religious commitments.

This chapter though, is about how religion is under attack. Example: “When I was mayor of Wasilla, I had to fight for six Christmases to keep the baby Jesus manger scene on display on Wasilla Lake.” Egad! That’s two more Christmases than Reese Witherspoon had to deal with in the holiday classic, Four Christmases. In related news, amazingly, Reese’s direct ancestor John Witherspoon’s 1782 Thanksgiving sermon is quoted at length on page 192.

Palin argues that religion was responsible for abolitionism and the civil rights movement. Not buying it? “Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed for taking part in a nonviolent protest against racial segregation in Alabama in 1963, his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ was both a refutation of racial segregation and a repudiation of those who opposed civil disobedience in pursuit of civil rights — a refudiation, if you will — cast in explicitly religious terms.”

Seeing her quote Martin Luther King, Jr. like this makes me feel like Kurt Cobain must have felt in that Lynn Hirschberg Vanity Fair article when they’re at a 7-Eleven and he sees a heavy metal dude get out of his van wearing a Nirvana shirt. I’m used to it now, I guess.

Best line, recalling George Bush’s words after 9/11: “‘The prayers of private suffering… are known and heard and understood.’ How I clung to those words in those frightening days.” Isn’t quoting George Bush, mentioning 9/11 and literally talking about how you clung to religion when you were scared a form of low-level entrapment?

Nine — Our North Star

This chapter is most notable for the extended film critiques. Unfortunately, Palin gives Jason Reitman way too much credit for the plot of Juno, when the real pro-life advocate here is the ex-stripper with the tattoo of a redhead in a bikini and bondage.

“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.” I guess Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days isn’t on the Palin’s Netflix queue.

Best line: “Many Americans, I think, are a lot like Juno.”

Conclusion — Commonsense Constitutional Conservatism

This section is a bit anticlimactic, and is perhaps most notable because the total number of mentions of Ronald Reagan in this book (33) narrowly passes the number of Reagan mentions in Going Rogue (31).

Best line, describing a lunch with the late Ted Stevens at her kitchen in Wasilla: “That day, he brought me a U.S. Senate coaster, which he had signed and inscribed with the encouraging words ‘Keep up what you are doing!’ I knew then, as I know today, that his heart was always with the people of the frontier.”


America by Heart is an instructional guide in to how to generate enough material to write a memoir only one year after your last memoir came out in only three easy steps.

1) Hire a ghostwriter

This one presumably is Jessica Gavora, wife of National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who is thanked in the acknowledgments and likely responsible for the striking similarities between a section of this book and a recent Goldberg column.

2) Shrink the book:

Based on Amazon’s figures, America by Heart is 128 pages shorter than Going Rogue and has a surface area that is 5.8 inches smaller. It has, however, three more chapters.

3) Memoir real estate is about three things: Quotation! Quotation! Quotation!

The unsung hero of this book is the long quotation. In 304 pages, I counted no fewer than 88 separate block-quoted excerpts that measured at least four lines (see the appendix below), but usually were about half to three quarters of a page — and sometimes actually ran several pages. Quotations have all the added benefit of writing your own words, but without the effort or potential troubles that come with being held responsible for things you’ve put in writing in your own name.

Also, if possible, have an insanely rabid fan base who doesn’t care at all about the content of your book so long as you talk about how awful liberals are and how you’re both awesome and exactly like them. That’s good too.

Appendix: Sources and Pages of Appearance of all Block Quotations in America By Heart by Sarah Palin

  1. Calvin Coolidge’s speech on the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (xix, 18)
  2. Ronald Reagan (xx)
  3. Senator Jefferson Smith’s filibuster (4)
  4. Ronald Reagan’s 1987 State of the Union (6)
  5. Preamble to the United States Constitution (8)
  6. Declaration of Independence (10)
  7. Barack Obama 2001 interview (13)
  8. Supreme Court oath of office (15)
  9. An essay by the late constitutional scholar Robert Goldwin (29)
  10. Barack Obama’s 2008 speech on race (31)
  11. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (33)
  12. William Bennett’s “Twelve Great Reasons to Love a Great Country” from his book The American Patriot’s Almanac (38)
  13. 1843 interview between a young historian and ninety-one-year-old veteran of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Captain Levi Preston (39)
  14. John Ford describing the Battle of Midway (41)
  15. A poem about veterans that Palin’s uncle emailed her (43)
  16. Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” (44)
  17. Ronald Reagan’s speech on the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion (44)
  18. Captain Tony Simeral on Sergeant Henry Erwin (46)
  19. John McCain’s Faith of My Fathers (50, 51)
  20. A description of the American military man that Palin’s brother sent her (55)
  21. Karl Shapiro’s “Elegy for a Dead Soldier” (60)
  22. Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review (64)
  23. Sociologist Charles Murray (66)
  24. Ronald Reagan’s 1981 letter to then-Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev (67)
  25. John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech (70)
  26. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (72)
  27. Ernest Gruening’s speech at the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention (73)
  28. Thomas Jefferson in 1791 (75)
  29. 1947 Indiana state legislature resolution (78)
  30. NBC founder David Sarnoff (83)
  31. Professor Luigi Zingales (86)
  32. Milton Friedman (88)
  33. Onion article titled “Miracle of Birth Occurs for the 83 Billionth Time” (99)
  34. Tony Woodlief’s Somewhere More Holy (101)
  35. Journalist and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes (103)
  36. Whittaker Chambers’ Witness (106)
  37. The collected letters of “an emigrant Frenchman turned American farmer with the impressive name of J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur” (108)
  38. Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (110)
  39. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams (111)
  40. “One of the nation’s foremost experts on the family, Allan Carlson” (112)
  41. Political scientist and James Q. Wilson’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Dan Quayle’s Murphy Brown speech (118)
  42. Reverend Bill Banuchi of the Marriage and Family Savers Institute (124)
  43. Columnist and former White House speechwriter Mary Kate Cary (131)
  44. Margaret Thatcher (133)
  45. National Review columnist Kathryn Lopez (138)
  46. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments (140)
  47. Author and feminist Christina Hoff Sommers (143)
  48. Someone writing about Carolina Nichols Churchill (146)
  49. “the wonderfully named Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne” in 1936 (148)
  50. Crystal Snow Jenne’s “Idle Thoughts of a Woman Legislator” (149)
  51. Colleen Carroll Campbell in post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog (151)
  52. Teddy Roosevelt speech in Chicago, 1899 (162)
  53. Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up from Slavery (171, 173)
  54. American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks’ The Battle (177)
  55. Mitt Romney (186, 187)
  56. Letter from John Adams to the officers of the Massachusetts militia in 1798 (189)
  57. Reverend John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg in a January 1776 sermon (190)
  58. John Witherspoon’s Thanksgiving Day sermon, 1782 (192)
  59. George Washington’s Farewell Address (194)
  60. Antonin Scalia’s dissent in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (197)
  61. Alexis de Tocqueville (199)
  62. George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport (201)
  63. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (204)
  64. Newt Gingrich’s Rediscovering God in America (209)
  65. Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech (212)
  66. Jonah Goldberg (215)
  67. 2006 New York Times editorial, “The Gospel vs. H.R. 4437” (217)
  68. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (219, 220)
  69. Ben Franklin at the Constitutional Convention (222)
  70. Antonin Scalia (223)
  71. George W. Bush’s speech at the National Cathedral, September 14, 2001 (224)
  72. FDR’s D-Day prayer (226)
  73. Emily Dickinson’s “I never saw a moor” (230)
  74. Badger Clark’s “A Cowboy’s Prayer (231)
  75. Alcoholics Anonymous (incorrectly attributed), “Serenity Prayer” (239)
  76. Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the 1968 Special Olympics (242)
  77. Reader’s Digest’s story of Curtis Pride’s first major league RBI (244)
  78. Dr. Charles Stanley’s How to Reach Your Full Potential for God (246, 247, 248)
  79. Max Lucado’s It’s Not About Me (249, 251, 252)

Jordan Carr is a student at Stanford and was a 2010 Summer Reporter at The Awl.

Photographs, from Flickr, in order, by asecondhandconjecture, asecondhandconjecture, WEBN-TV, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, sergio_leenen and FairbanksMike.