The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar
by Scott Conroy & Shushannah Walshe
published 2009 by Public Affairs Press,
ISBN 978-1-58648-788-1 (hardcover), 301 pages
I added this book to my reading list after hearing it described as a biography which was fact-based, and which was credited with seriously striving to be as unbiased as possible. Author Shushannah Walshe was a producer at Fox News from 2001 to 2008; author Scott Conroy worked for CBS News and CBSnews.com as a producer. Both were embedded in the Vice Presidential Campaign of Sarah Palin as reporters.
I read this book in a very short period of time, so as to have my impressions from reading it fresh in my mind when I write this. The book appeared to me to be meticulously researched, with five pages of small print notes broken down by chapter, following the main body of the book. Those notes detail meticulously many of the 190 interviews for this book which they completed in research, in addition to their own shared observations from the campaign, and the additional several pages of acknowledgments. The authors point out that they give credit where they can, a few other sources did not wish to be identified in the book's pages. These sources encompass family and friends, political allies and foes - and some individuals who had been both at different points in time. One of the qualities in the writing of this book that most impressed me was the determined effort of the authors to avoid a celebrity hype piece, or a hatchet job, or sensationalism (pro or con).
My favorite quote, although long, insightfully sums up what was said by many of the people interviewed reads:
(quoting Republican State Legislator Ms. Lesil McGuire from Anchorage, who served prior to and during the Palin partial term as governor, pages 277-278)
"I am proud of her for entering the fray, for coming out and being strong with a full family and all of those obligations that she struggles with. And I am very proud of the person that she was when she entered the race. She was very real and plain spoken. But what I see as having happened now is that you had a really good person thrust way up ahead of where their experience level was. Maybe it would be like asking someone who had observed or read medical textbooks to go and perform a surgery. No matter how competent you are as a person and your character and what you stand for, it doesn't mean that you have the experience necessary to govern. People take that for granted. I think they think that when they are voting for someone, it's a personality contest. Well, if I like them, if they are attractive to me, if they seem like a good person, maybe I want them to be my neighbor, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are qualified to govern. And it may mean they are qualified to govern later on in their life, not at that particular point. So she got ahead of her experience. Because of that, in my opinion, her self-confidence deteriorated. She stopped having one-on-one meetings, because, frankly, the conversations would get into details that she wasn't able to answer. That then begets a whole other series of problems. People feel like you are not respecting them because you are not meeting with them. You are evasive; you are aloof. You're not doing it necessarily because you're mean, because you are rejecting the public; it's because you're maybe out of your league and then now you compound this with this national exposure, and she never got an opportunity to define to the world who she was prior to that."
I have been skeptical of the allegations made in the recent gossipy book "Game Change", which included the idea that Sarah Palin was so poorly educated on such a wide range of topics that she did not know why there was a North and South Korea, and that she had to be educated on the fundamentals of the history of WWI and WWII. In the section of "Sarah from Alaska"dealing with the preparation for the Vice Presidential Debate, the participants involved in prepping Palin assert that Palin had very much that kind of ignorance. They describe foot tall piles upon piles of flash cards intended to try to cram as one would for an exam to bring her up to speed. Palin appears to be not only appallingly ignorant, and unqualified to serve in a major political office, she shows no indication of attempting to remediate her deficiencies, or to even acknowledge that she has such deficiencies. Palin has, correctly, been compared unfavorably to the widely viewed as unqualified Vice President, Dan Quayle.
On page 38, Palin's own father is credited with explaining Sarah Palin's leaving the University of Hawaii at Hilo, in a comment that is in some ways descriptive of Palin (and her friends) subsequently leaving the office of Governor after the Vice Presidential campaign "It just wasn't what they expected," he says. "They were a minority type thing and it wasn't glamorous, so she came home." A similar lack of glamour is given as one of the causes, but by no means the only cause, for Palin leaving office without serving out her full term. It also reflects a very parochial, narrow comfort zone for Palin prior to being thrust upon the national stage.
I won't try to summarize the entire contents of this book. It covers Palin's entry into state level politics, it addresses many of her relationships, both family and friends, and political colleagues and adversaries. "Sarah from Alaska" provides an excellent look behind the scenes of the 2008 McCain / Palin Presidential and Vice Presidential campaigns, and follows her up until shortly after her resignation as Governor of Alaska after the campaign was over.
I was impressed with the effort by these two journalists to be as objective and fact-based for their statements as is humanly, reasonably possible. I was impressed at the level of collaboration as authors, especially given the rivalry of their employers. For those who have a continuing interest in Palin, whether as a supporter or a detractor (or the few who remain neutral), I would encourage adding this book to your reading list. It is a significant source for anyone trying to form a well-grounded opinion of Palin in anticipation of the 2012 electoral race.
I would particularly appreciate comments from any other readers of this book for their reactions to the content.