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‘Going Rouge’ takes a critical look at Palin

Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, senior editors at The Nation magazine have put together "Going Rouge," a collection of essays that look critically at Sarah Palin. Read an excerpt featuring two essays from the book.
/ Source: TODAY books

Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, senior editors at The Nation magazine have put together "Going Rouge," a collection of essays that look critically at Sarah Palin. The book has generated buzz because of it's cover similarities to "Going Rogue," Palin's memoir. Below is an excerpt featuring two essays from the book.

Forum: What is Sarah Palin’s future in American politics?
By Christopher Hayes, The Nation D.C. editor

A friend of mine who is the publisher of a very successful news site has a joke: In the future the Internet will consist entirely of Sarah Palin slide shows. Anyone who’s ever had occasion to look at traffic statistics for a news website understands what he’s saying. Few things draw in readers and garner clicks more reliably than articles (or, even better, pictures) of Sarah Palin. We can’t look away. We can’t stop talking about her even when we desperately want to. The very fact that you’re holding this book in your hands attests to that.

My first experience of this Sarah Palin effect came during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. As a progressive opinion journalist who routinely reports on conservatives, you come to develop a kind of practiced disassociative state when behind enemy lines. You’d never be able to gain any understanding whatsoever if you spent all your time arguing with and hectoring people at evangelical colleges or anti-immigration rallies, so it’s both psychologically and professionally necessary to put yourself in a state of mind where you simply listen.

On the night Palin gave her big debut national speech, I sat through the speeches that preceded hers in that same slightly removed state. Then Palin came to the stage. The crowd grew more and more raucous, and the room began to feel like a Roman Colosseum. When Palin went after the “reporters and commentators” in the “Washington elite” for having disparaged and condescended to her, the crowd erupted and began pointing and jeering at Tom Brokaw, sitting in the NBC booth. I watched all this still, I thought, with equanimity.

About a third of the way through the speech, when she delivered her infamous potshot at community organizers—

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities”—

I suddenly felt like the room was 100 degrees. Realizing my face was burning with heat, I went to touch my cheeks, which felt feverish. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what was going on, and was about to get up for a breath of fresh air or water until it hit me: I was furious.

My father is a community organizer and spent years toiling in some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York, doing the painstaking, unglamorous work of attempting to build power among people who were routinely getting screwed over. And Sarah Palin had just spit in his face.

Despite my best efforts, she had gotten to me.

What I was experiencing was a strange kind of dislocation: Palin had managed to bypass one part of my brain and reach down deep into another. There are two kinds of politics: There’s politics of the prefrontal cerebral cortex, the politics of analysis and facts and discussion, and there’s politics of the limbic system, the sub-rational, emotional, ancient part of the brain that controls the bodily responses like the blood flushing my cheeks in that seat in the Xcel Energy Center.

As degraded as our politics may be, it’s impossible for me to imagine a politician as purely limbic as Sarah Palin ever managing to ascend to the White House. But democratic politics in a heterogeneous society like ours is inevitably tribal, and millions of Americans view her as their vessel and their chief. The political potency of someone who can provoke that kind of visceral reaction shouldn’t be underestimated.

By Amanda Marcotte, blogger for
Looking at the train wreck that is Sarah Palin, I find myself torn between my partisan desires and my love of country. Palin’s continued popularity with the Republican base has the potential to marginalize the GOP even further, as the public at large perceives Palin both as a bimbo and as a right winger who blows past “conservative” straight into militia separatist territory, with a side of speaking in tongues. As a Democratic partisan, I can only hope Palin takes the Republicans further away from the mainstream.

But as a patriot, I’m concerned about Palin’s future as a politician. It’s not impossible for the American people to have a collective brain fart and vote her into high office; we are the nation that gave Richard Nixon an overwhelming victory and saw George W. Bush as the conquering hero of 9/11. When I hear fellow liberals cheer Palin on with hopes that she’ll sink the Republican Party, I find myself cringing in fear. Let’s not cheer her all the way to the White House, I think.

But it seems that my greatest Palin hope (that she’ll ruin the Republicans) and my greatest Palin fear (that she’ll ruin the country) might both amount to nothing. Palin may try to spin her hasty resignation from the Alaska governor’s office as a political asset, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is under any obligation to believe her. Recent news stories about Palin doing things like signing up for LinkedIn, like any common job searcher, or sniggering jokes about her upcoming memoirs being written a tad too quickly send the message that the political and media establishment can’t take Palin seriously enough to let her have any power.

Palin has potential, lurking career-destroying scandals that could put the John Edwards affair to shame. If any of the many rumors floating around about her are true, she’s definitely toast. Remember, the same National Enquirer that broke the Edwards story has run with rumors about Palin having an affair, rumors that the mainstream media will cease ignoring if Palin stages a successful political comeback.

But for my money, the most amusing danger to Palin’s career comes in the form of her grandson’s father, Levi Johnston. Johnston is both a publicity hound and an endless fountain of amusing anecdotes about the Palin family that are incompatible with the humble American right-wing populist image Palin cultivates. Johnston has embarrassed the Palin family by mocking their social conservative front and by revealing that Sarah Palin openly spoke about how much more money she’d make as a professional celebrity than as a governor. Not the best things to have out there if you want a serious political career. The man has expressed interest in posing for Playgirl. That’s the sort of association that’s hard to live down.

Not that any of this matters to the hard-core conservative base that loves Sarah Palin. Their unchanging love is based not so much on who Palin actually is, but the role she plays, that of a Bible-thumping, moose-shooting beauty queen who really gets them. Luckily, the majority of the country isn’t quite as keen on embracing the fantasy.

Excerpted from "Going Rouge: An American Nightmare," edited by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from OR Books.