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Friday, September 30, 2011


Joe McGinnis's book about Sarah Palin arrived yesterday via, and I have now finished reading it. Since I think it is probable that very few of the people who check this blog will ever look at it, I will take a few moments to give my impressions of it.

McGinniss is an accomplished and lively writer, clearly much taken by Alaska's dramatic frontier scenery and by its people, whom he describes repeatedly as friendly, generous, and open. By an extraordinary stroke of fortune, he ended up living for several months literally next door to the Palins, a fact that sent her and her husband, Todd, into paroxysms of paranoid frenzy.

The book is based on a very large number of personal interviews with a wide range of Alaskans, as well as on a good deal of archival research. It traces Palin's entire career, from her college days [such as they were] to the furor surrounding her "blood libel" speech after the shooting of Gabby Giffords. [To keep this short, I am simply going to assume that folks know a good deal about Palin. It would take me forever to fill in the details. Thanks, by the way, to Prof. K. Brad Wray for correcting my error in referring to Rep. Giffords as "Kathy".] McGinnis succeeds in bringing Wasilla to life quite vividly, so that readers like me who have never been to Alaska can feel ourselves present in Palin's home town.

The first thing to note is that Wasilla is a very small town indeed -- perhaps six or seven thousand people. Thanks to the fact that multiple marriages seem to be the rule, the people McGinnis interviewed not only know one another, they frequently are related in some way or other. As McGinnis describes it, Wasillans are rather heavy drinkers and drug users, and of course they are all gun owners. A number of friendly people, concerned that McGinnis was putting himself in danger by choosing to live next to the Palins, generously offered him a choice of their five or six pistols, revolvers, shotguns, and automatic weapons, but he elected to go unarmed.

Leaving to one side the substantive political content of Palin's public life, with which I assume everyone has some familiarity, I come away from the book with four powerful impressions.

First, Palin is very, very deeply immersed in the end-times, young earth, Second Coming Dominionist movement in Evangelical Christianity. She came to it early, and although she has on occasion kept it from view for political reasons, has remained committed to it throughout her life. Some elements of this strain of Christianity are of course comical, like the belief that the earth was created six thousand years ago with people and dinosaurs on it -- the people survived, the dinosaurs did not. But there is nothing comical at all about her belief that America must be ruled by a Christian doctrine that leaves no room for dissent or unbelief. Palin professes to believe that the Second Coming, and with it the End Times foretold in Revelations, will occur in her lifetime. Perhaps this is why she has taken no steps to see that any of her children finish high school.

Second, Palin and her husband, Todd, give every evidence of being arrested emotionally at roughly the Middle School stage of psychological development. She is petty, vindictive, ruthless in her personal relationships, ambitious in roughly the way that a "mean girl" in the tenth grade would be ambitious -- desperate to be the Homecoming Queen and jealous of any girl who threatens her dominance of the schoolyard. It is really difficult to believe how mean-spirited she is about things that any normal adult, let alone a Mayor, Governor, and Vice-Presidential candidate would consider beneath her attention.

She is utterly uninterested in government, and apparently spent a good deal of her time as governor shopping at Nordstrom's. Her reading extends to People Magazine, and as she says when a librarian she was trying to force to censor books asked her to look at one of the books she was attempting to have removed from the Wasilla Library, "I don't read things that might change my mind."

Third, she is utterly without any "motherly" emotions or skills whatsoever. People who have spent time in her home say that she never changed diapers, never cooked a meal, never cared for her children in any of the customary ways. Even though Todd is a bully with an out-of-control temper, it is he, not she, who did what child-rearing actually took place in the Palin home. The marriage is described by many observers as a disaster, with Todd and Sarah constantly shouting at one another and threatening to get a divorce. More interestingly, considering the deliberately sexually provocative public persona she affects, there is very little sex in the marriage. As Todd is reported to have said at one time, "I guess I got laid four times. I have four kids." [This was before the arrival of Trig.] During his frequent times away from home to work in the oil fields on the North Slope, he apparently did a good deal of sleeping around, but no one is reported by McGinnis ever to suggest that Sarah did.

Finally, and this to me is the most interesting revelation in the book, Sarah Palin comes across as a profoundly psychologically troubled individual -- ambitious, to be sure, ruthless, no doubt, but not at all in any coherently rational fashion. She is clearly a psychopathic personality, but she also exhibits very strange eating disorders, sleeping disorders, and a level of narcissistic self-involvement that is way beyond what one would expect in a public political figure.

Never mind what it says about America that she came very close to being the sitting Vice President in an administration with a man in his seventies with a history of heart trouble.


formerly a wage slave said...

Thanks for this.

formerly a wage slave said...

a follow-up/second thought comment: "Thanks for this"?! ....This what? This summary, plus your thoughts.
But your in passing mention of the pathological nature of politics in the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons against a civilian populace stirred in me the following thought: I have been reading Alfred Döblin's absolutely marvelous novels, "A People Betrayed" and "The Troops Return". The United States has not yet found a genius of Döblin's stature to describe the USA as he did Germany.....

Chris said...

Why bother reading a more intelligent version of essentially one larger than normal people magazine article?

There are tens of millions of broken homes in America, there's nothing that makes Palin's more important, or worthy of scrutiny, than anyone elses.

Let's not make a fetish of the individual...

Michael said...

Chris, isn't it relevant that Palin is a prominent right-wing political figure? Scrutinizing her is one step in understanding the movement to which she belongs, and that is a step toward combating the lunacy of such a movement.

Benj Hellie said...

I don't think McCain came at all close to being elected president.

Aaron Baker said...

Very enjoyable.

One pedantic quibble: it's the Book of Revelation, not Revelations.

Andrew Slaikeu said...

Great closing sentence/thoguht.

Michael Otsuka said...

"Great closing sentence/thoguht."

Save for the fact that McCain didn't have a history of heart trouble.

Aaron Baker said...

Of some interest may be this article by Geoffrey Dunn, a pushback against the very negative review of McGinniss's book by Janet Maslin in the NYT:

I admit I don't know enough about Palin--and don't want to know--to be a good judge of who has the better case, Dunn or Maslin.

Methadras said...

Pape Blong said...

I don't think McCain came at all close to being elected president.

He only lost by 5 or so points.

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