Maybe in their business lives, conservatives are the stern, unforgiving masters of capitalist lore. But when it comes to politics, oh, do they love a whiner!
It is her mastery of the lament that explained former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's appeal last year, and now her knack for self-pity is on full display in her book, "Going Rogue." This is the memoir as prolonged, keening wail, larded with petty vindictiveness. With an impressive attention to detail, Ms. Palin settles every score, answers every criticism; locates a scapegoat for every foul-up, and fastens an insult on every critic, down to the last obscure Palin-doubter back in Alaska.
From Ms. Palin's masterwork, we learn that the personal really is the political. Every encounter with a critic seems to be a skirmish in the culture wars, from the Alaska debate moderator who didn't play fair once to the "wealthy, effete young chap" who ran against her for governor but who, in one of the quickest transitions from anti-snob to snob in all of literature, is also said to have served as "our limo driver at [her husband] Todd's cousin's wedding."
We read about the mean things people have said about Ms. Palin's daughter Bristol, Ms. Palin's suspicions that the neighbors of the Alaska governor's mansion disapproved of her kids' toys, her assurance that she lived a spartan life as governor, "despite what some critics would later accuse me of doing." There's the nonscandal she calls "Troopergate," which is virtually impossible to follow in this telling, except for the insults Ms. Palin directs at one of the men who was (apparently) on the other side of the issue, whatever it was.
In other circumstances, Ms. Palin seems like a woman of grit. When she discovers that her fifth child is going to be born with Down syndrome, she is initially upset, but then writes a letter in God's voice-incidentally, one of the book's creepiest moments-instructing the rest of the family to "accept that I [i.e., the Almighty] only want the best for you. . . ."
But the mean things people say and do during her vice presidential run-these are not to be taken in the same spirit. These are to be recalled and deplored, one by one, as if from a master list Ms. Palin has been keeping all this time. She reminds us that someone hacked her email, that she got a prank phone call, and that she once saw someone wearing an insulting T-shirt in Philadelphia.
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She claims that what ruined her famous interview with wily CBS News personality Katie Couric was the latter's "condescension," which caused Ms. Palin to bungle questions like the one in which she was asked to name her favorite newspaper. And she introduces us to Steve Schmidt, the Republican campaign strategist who is the book's No. 1 bad guy-almost alone among the book's characters, he is always referred to by his last name-and who, as Ms. Palin tells it, once implied to an aide that "if there were any more leaks critical of anybody in the handling of Sarah Palin, then a lot more negative stuff would be said about Sarah Palin."
And, lo and behold, there is. Much more. All of it neatly catalogued, bemoaned, and for sale.
But amid all this score-settling, Ms. Palin wanders into some predictable traps. When explaining her political philosophy, for example, she tells readers that "conservatism is a respect for history and tradition"; on the very next page she instructs readers to accept the creative-destructive whirl of the market, which affects society the way "wildfires in Alaska burn away deadfall to make way for new growth."
So much for tradition. The respect she shows history, though, is the kind of respect you show the flag when you soak it in kerosene and touch a match to it. "[W]e tried growing government to save the economy back in the 1930s, and it didn't work then either," Ms. Palin writes. It is a modest assertion, though, compared to the astonishing finding Ms. Palin reveals in the next sentence: "Massive government spending programs and protectionist economic policies actually helped turn a recession into the Great Depression." If this is, as it seems, a reference to the New Deal, then history, per Ms. Palin, sometimes goes backwards, with the WPA and its ilk actually bringing about events that took place before they were launched.
But Ms. Palin's life is meant to be an inspiration. Maybe I should follow her example. The opinion-page equivalent of the Palinesque style is easy enough to imagine: I would use this space to recite the indignities the world forced on me over the course of the week-an effete-looking young person ignored me the other day-plus glimpses of heartland authenticity-I sure do like pot roast-before concluding, darkly, that the reason I suffer is because I am such a sterling American.
I can't wait to get started.