Going (More Than) Rogue: Sarah Palin and the Pink Elephant in the Room

"How's that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?" 

Sarah Palin's parody of Barack Obama's presidential campaign slogan elicited enthusiastic applause and a roar of laughter during a February 2010 Opryland Hotel engagement (Klein 21), and the trademark question has delighted her supporters many times since. Certainly, the size and exuberance of Palin's fan base help to explain the popularity of her memoir Going Rogue: An American Life (2009), which, according to HarperCollins, sold 700,000 copies during the first week (Barbour n.p.).

Writing her memoir was such a priority for Palin that she cites it as one of the reasons she resigned as governor of Alaska seventeen months early. Palin wasted no time writing and publishing Going Rogue, completing the 413-page book in approximately four months (Fitzpatrick n.p.) with the help of ghostwriter Lynn Vincent, who has co-authored several books and writes for WORLD, a Christian news magazine. 

Although Palin has been attacked for collaborating with an experienced writer, her supporters respond by saying that Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, former CIA chief George Tenet, and other entertainment, political, and sports celebrities have employed them, too. Some of her critics say four months is not long enough to write a reputable book, but, again, others disagree: "When she resigned as governor, she had a lot more time and was able to really devote herself full-time [sic] to writing the book," said Tina Andreadis of HarperCollins. "That's really all that there is" (Fitzpatrick n.p.).

Accounting for Palin's celebrity status requires more than an analysis of the content and popularity of her memoir, which will be followed with the pre-Christmas 2010 publication of her second book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag. Unlike political memoirs by Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama, Going Rogue may or may not be a narrative intended to propel Palin into public office. Although there is no question that the book has two purposes -- to respond formally to her whirlwind 2008 vice presidential candidacy and to make clear her political position -- she has not announced plans to run for president or for any other political office.

Although addressing Palin's account of her personal and political development in Going Rogue is the purpose of this essay, a reference to two cover photographs and their accompanying stories in a prominent news magazine provides an important symbolic and historical context for this study. The Nov. 23, 2009, and June 21, 2010 covers of Newsweek symbolize Palin's ascendancy in the American political sphere in a way that her memoir cannot. The controversial cover from 2009, which originally ran in Runner's World, features Palin in running clothes with her elbow on the American flag. The accompanying headlines reads, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah?: She's Bad News for the GOP -- and for Everybody Else, Too." On the 2010 Newsweek cover, the photo of a conservatively dressed Palin -- her head enveloped by a halo -- is displayed above the headline: "Saint Sarah: What Palin's Appeal to Conservative Christian Women Says about Feminism and the Future of the Religious Right."

The first cover story ridicules then-Governor Palin and dismisses her by stating that she is "bad news" for everyone. Although still parodying her, the second story acknowledges her importance to those who respect her religious perspective and who share at least some of her political views. Reporter Lisa Miller, whose expertise at Newsweek is the history and impact of religion and who wrote "Saint Sarah," said she considers Palin a phenomenon in American politics.

On June 14, 2010, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly interviewed Miller in a segment entitled "Is Newsweek's 'Saint Palin' Cover Story Mocking or Praising Palin?" "I didn't think it was a bad article," O'Reilly tells Miller. "It's not a slam. You didn't write a slam." Assuring him that criticizing Palin was not her intention, Miller said, "I'm trying to explain to people that what Sarah Palin is offering conservative, Bible-believing women is something very, very powerful ... I think one of the things that's so appealing about her is that she has this universal female message, and that, you know, the left overlooks it to its own peril."

This analysis of Going Rogue begins where the "The O'Reilly Factor" ends. Unlike Hillary Clinton's Living History or Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Going Rogue is dedicated primarily to a different kind of underrepresented community, one not often celebrated by intellectual elites or addressed in academic journals. The "bless their hearts" and "you betcha" vernacular that alienates some of Palin's critics endears her to others. What some consider her convoluted sentence structure -- "Look out, Washington, because there's a whole stampede of pink elephants crossing the line, and the ETA stampeding through is November 2, 2010. Lotta women comin' together" (Halperin 33) -- makes perfect sense to those who speak as she does and who empathize with her and concur with her message. 

Given the polish of Palin's two-minute video released July 8, 2010, it is clear that Palin is becoming more confident and coherent as she learns from political image-makers. "Palin's video proves that she is savvy and sophisticated enough to harness her star power for political effect," writes Mark Halperin in "A Foot in the Race." Calling her "the most arresting political figure other than the President" (33), Halperin, like Miller and other journalists, recognizes her appeal and acknowledges her evolution as a public figure. "Many Christian women loathe Palin, of course, and many men love her, but a certain kind of conservative, Bible-believing woman worships her," Miller writes. "Palin has her faults, but the left is partially to blame for her ascent. Its native mistrust of religion, of conservative believers in particular, left the gap that Palin now fills" ("Saint Sarah" n.p.).

Certainly, what Miller has called a "mom of faith" movement and a "mom uprising" ("Saint Sarah" n.p.) and Halperin has described as a "mom awakening" ("A Foot in the Race" 32) helps to explain the popular appeal and financial success of Going Rogue. This essay addresses the historical context, the literary impact, and the social implications of Palin's memoir and addresses the place of autobiography, memoir, and personal essays in the political arena.

Going Rogue as Political Memoir

Part of the appeal of political memoir is that it is exactly what it appears to be. 

Candidates for public office and those retiring from the political sphere describe themselves through the filter of memory; account for past decisions with impunity; include or exclude particular events, family members, friends, or political operatives; explain their goals for themselves and their constituents; and sell books that have two clear, often overtly stated goals -- to win an election or influence political debate and to make money. 

In a journalistic and literary world that must contend with the veracity of autobiography, biography, documentary, and films "based on fact" and that must overcome ignominious examples -- Stephen Glass's fraudulent articles published by The New Republic and James Frey's acknowledged exaggerations and lies in A Million Little Pieces are cases in point -- at least one genre is what it is. Individuals may use political memoir to further their careers, to fill their coffers, and to explain past failures and successes. Readers and critics may believe only as much or as little as they choose and may employ the same critical sensibility they do when watching a television advertisement for Geico or Pepsi. If a reader considers Hillary Clinton a puppet of the Democratic Party, Living History is not likely to change his or her mind. If a reader believes Barack Obama to be a person of integrity, Dreams from My Father will reinforce that perspective and provide an explanation for Obama's moral development.

Although several of the candidates in the 2008 presidential race published memoirs -- including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama -- one of the most provocative narratives was published after the election and seems to provide evidence that its author might again run for political office. Going Rogue reached the top of the nonfiction bestsellers list and sold more copies than even Palin's supporters could have predicted. After an initial print run of 1.5 million copies, HarperCollins announced a second printing of 1 million more. In November 2009, sales of Palin's memoir surpassed I, Alex Cross by James Patterson; Under the Dome by Stephen King; and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Although Nielsen BookScan said Going Rogue sold 469,000 during its first week (not the 700,000 that HarperCollins claims), company spokespeople explained that Nielsen BookScan did not include sales at mass market retailers such as Sam's Club and Walmart. "If the 700,000 figure is accurate," Jefferson Barbour writes, "that places Palin's memoir ahead of Living History, the 2003 memoir by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton" ("Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' Hits Number One" n.p.).

Some immediately dismissed the book's success because Palin employed a ghostwriter (how much of the memoir was really hers?), others because retailers such as Target and Amazon sold the book at bargain rates, and still others because conservative groups bought advance copies of the book. However, few acknowledge what Palin's fan base understands: Going Rogue provided Christians, conservatives, heterosexual parents, political aficionados, middle-class women, rural Americans, and others an opportunity to see their own lives in print and to celebrate someone who represents them with courage and without apology. 

Often ridiculed by others, individuals in some of these groups identify with Palin when she and members of her family are attacked for their religious beliefs, for their emphasis on family, and for their accents and regional phrases. This empathy is but one reason for their belief in her and the stories she tells in Going Rogue. Scott Payne of the Washington Examiner warns:

Each time liberals like Robert Gibbs take a moment to mock the know nothingness of Sarah Palin, they reinforce a stereotype about what it means to be liberal to precisely the voters they have the hardest time reaching: the ones in the middle of the country ... With each barb they hurl her way, liberals participate in a self-fulfilling prophecy that only serves to reinforce feelings of alienation amongst more rural voters with whom Palin continues to have an overwhelming degree of support.  And the more those stereotypes are reinforced in the current national climate-a climate that puts most Americans on the other side of the Obama administration on things like the Arizona immigration law, provides the President with his lowest approval rating amongst independents to date, and economic confidence continuing to sink-the more Palin and her camp come out on the winning side of the national debate. ("Democrats and Sarah Palin" n.p.)

When Going Rogue hit number one, Barbour wrote, "Sarah Palin has been the butt of many jokes since making her debut on the national stage late in 2008, but someone out there must like her" ("Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' Hits Number One"). Evidence that Barbour's calculated understatement is correct may be partially indicated by the record number of Republican and conservative women (they are not always one and the same) now seeking public office. Palin's example and her support for candidates she considers worthy say a great deal about the pink elephant in the room.

"Commonsense Conservative Women"

In "A Foot in the Race," Halperin quotes Palin as saying that 2010 is the year when "commonsense conservative women get things done for our country": "Moms kinda just know when something's wrong," Palin said. "You thought pit bulls were tough? Well, you don't wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!" Citing Palin's prediction of a "mom awakening" in the United States, Halperin said the two-minute video released by the former governor in the summer of 2010 strategically "features image after image of everyday, determined, smiling, patriotic mothers and grandmothers" (32).

Even those who are drawn to Palin's message are trying to decide what to make of her success, and, as Miller suggested during her conversation with O'Reilly, Palin's detractors ignore her at their own peril. In an article entitled "Record Numbers of Republican Women Running for House Seats," Garance Franke-Ruta argues that the "surge" in the number of women registering to launch a political campaign has occurred "largely under the radar" (n.p.). 

In 1992 -- called "The Year of the Woman" -- the number of women in Congress "reached double digits for the first time," with 222 women filing to run for the House and 29 for the Senate. By May 2010, according to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, 107 Republican women had filed to run for the House. The previous high was 91 in 1994 (Franke-Ruta n.p.). In June 2010 there were thirteen Republican and ten Democratic women running for the Senate (Fritze n.p.). Those who discount the importance of the latter figures state that approximately 67 percent of the Republican women seeking House seats face Democratic incumbents, a fact that has historically presented significant challenges (Franke-Ruta n.p.). 

Some of these women can no doubt expect support from Palin. Her enthusiasm about political hopeful Nikki Haley of South Carolina came as Haley was accused of extramarital affairs, and Palin helped Haley win her gubernatorial primary. Although it is difficult to argue that the publication of Going Rogue directly sparked political activism by women, Palin has continued to be a factor in the success of conservatives running for office, having promoted candidates such as Carly Fiorina of California in her Senate race and Jane Norton of Colorado in hers. (On Aug. 10, 2010, Norton lost the election to Tea Party candidate Ken Buck.)

Unfortunately, the conservative and Republican women running for political office face the same misogyny that women of all political persuasions have endured. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who is often objectified sexually, is joined by candidate Nikki Haley, representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, author Michelle Malkin, Palin, and others who are familiar targets of sexism. In two of the most egregious examples, the Playboy site placed (and then pulled) a column by Guy Cimbalo entitled "Ten Conservative Women I'd Like to Hate Fuck" (June 1, 2009), and reporters repeatedly have asked Palin about whether she has had breast implants. Perhaps less offensive are comments by Republican Ken Buck, who won the Senate primary in Colorado on Aug. 10, 2010, and who told supporters during his campaign in Weld County to vote for him because he doesn't wear high heels. (He then told the group he wears real cowboy boots with "bullshit" on them.)

Other statements have been equally unpopular. For example, the media described a day in 2010 when four women won primary and gubernatorial elections as "ladies night," and, according to a Newsweek article entitled "Too Hot to Handle," critics were quick to respond. "These women are not competing to see who has the most smokin' bod," said Julia Baird, author of Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians. "They want to run the country, or their part of it. They want votes, not free drinks -- and we need properly scrutinized candidates, not circus performers" ("Too Hot to Handle" n.p.).

Certainly, Palin's memoir -- for which she received a seven-figure advance -- will help her reach her constituency if she decides to pursue political office. On SarahPAC, her political action committee, Palin posted the following entreaty: "SarahPAC supporters make it possible to get out there and fight for what we believe in. Please stand with us today. We won't let anyone tell us to sit down and shut up. We're going to stand up, stand together, and fight for what's right!" ("Sales of Palin's 'Going Rogue' Prompt Another Press Run" n.p.) Funds from book sales provide Palin with an even more powerful microphone.

Memoir in Political and Social Movements

Memoir has long been a way for politicians to present themselves to potential voters and to account for what they did while in office. After Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and Vietnam, for example, everyone from Richard M. Nixon to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein availed themselves of the genre. In more recent years, those involved with those events, including Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham of the Washington Post, have penned their life stories. 

Memoir allows authors the opportunity to describe themselves, to address criticisms and perceived misconceptions that have accumulated over time, and to omit references to events they would prefer to forget. Athletes, authors, military officers, presidents, teachers, television anchors, and others have availed themselves of the long-form personal essay.

However, although all memoir tacitly asks readers to interpret the author positively, political memoir has the potential to affect the future of nations. Politicians from Nixon to Obama have employed memoir as a way to appear more accessible, although the effect is sometimes quite the opposite. Few of us disclose everything even to those who know us best, so ultimately, memoir both reveals and obfuscates -- much like the stories we tell about ourselves at dinner parties. Quite simply, we all have ways we prefer to retell the events that shape us. This study focuses upon the ways we define ourselves in a genre that is called by one proponent the "Gray Zone," upon the way in which Palin and others defend themselves against institutional and personal sexism, and upon how politicians and others strategically seek to write their own stories before others do.

In addition to an analysis of the ways Palin describes herself and is described by others, this essay explores how we reconstruct ourselves in a public space, the ways we remember conversations and decisions that have determined our lives, and the ways memoir factors into the study of extended nonfiction. Literary journalist Sara Davidson, author of Loose Change, Real Property, Leap! and other bestsellers, addresses the role of memoir, a particularly rich and problematic category of nonfiction, in her article "The Gray Zone." Davidson deals generally with the complexity of nonfiction and in particular with the difficulties she has encountered while writing memoir.

Davidson begins with a reference to Patrick Kennedy, editor of his father's True at First Light, and his decision to publish the work as "fictionalized memoir." She then asks the question that drives this study: "When a story has its wellspring in life-in actual events and real people-what constitutes a fictional rendering and what constitutes memoir?" In journalism, she says, the answer matters "absolutely" because reporters have a responsibility not to "invent, change or embellish the smallest detail." In the "gray zone" where she writes, however, the answer for her (and, presumably, for us) is not so clear. She writes,

When a writer sets out to tell a story, he immediately finds himself
constrained by the fallibility of memory.  No one can recall the exact words of a conversation that took place a few days ago, let alone years, even if the writer attempts to recreate that conversation faithfully.  In addition, the very process of translating mood, nonverbal signals and emotions into words creates a reality on the page that does not exactly mirror the event in life.  But beyond this, the writer makes a deliberate choice as to how much he will permit himself to take liberties (49).

Ultimately, Davidson argues for what she calls "not a better system of classification" for nonfiction works, but "full disclosure" (50) by the authors themselves.

None of the problems with writing memoir suggests that the genre should be dismissed. Although it is fraught with peril, memoir remains a source of personal information and allows writers the opportunity to be thoughtful and to reflect upon their roles in the community, the society, the nation, and the world. What emerges is often no more and no less reliable than texts described as biography, history, or even journalism.

Like other political memoirs, Palin's life chronicle is intended to further her political career, although it is too early to predict what she may want to accomplish in the political and social spheres. But unlike memoirs by many political figures, Going Rogue is a family chronicle; it is also a document that makes clear her positions on gay marriage, government intervention in individual lives, gun control, reproductive rights, special needs children, taxation, and other often divisive issues.

Family as Metaphor for the Nation

One of the reasons Going Rogue succeeds is Palin's repeated use of the family unit as a metaphor for community and for the nation itself. In order to develop this theme, Palin limits information about her childhood and adolescence to the most pertinent facts. Born in Sandpoint, Idaho to Chuck and Sally Heath, Palin establishes her credentials as a grassroots politician and an everyday American: Her mother was a server in the cafeteria of the Eagle River Elementary School, and later a school secretary. Her father was a schoolteacher at Chugiak Elementary School. She has a brother and two sisters. Rarely does Palin provide more than a timeline; once, when discussing her father, she writes, "It seems he was determined not to replicate his family's brokenness in his own" (11). 

Palin writes that she grew up attending an Assembly of God church and later a nondenominational Bible church. She uses language familiar to Protestants when she states, "I made the conscious decision [one] summer to put my life in my Creator's hands and trust Him as I sought my life's path" (22). Palin tells readers that she has always loved to write and to read and that for a time, she wanted to be a sports reporter, graduating with a broadcasting degree from the University of Idaho. She said she has always read voraciously: "From The Pearl to Jonathan Livingston Seagull to Animal Farm and anything by C.S. Lewis, I would put down one book just long enough to pick up another" (27). 

No fact is incidental to the portrait of herself that Palin presents. For example, she emphasizes her belief in hard work and independence throughout Going Rogue, thereby appealing to voters who believe -- to cite a popular cliché -- in the virtue of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. When she was growing up, she cleaned an office building, played sports, and worked as a babysitter and waitress. "The expectation was that we would all go to college and pay our own way, no questions asked" (32), she says. "Hard work and passion matter most of all" (41). 

Acknowledging that many of her opportunities came because she was a "product of Title IX" (29), Palin chose some traditional ways to pay for college, relying upon scholarships she won in the Miss Wasilla pageant and as second runner-up and "Miss Congeniality" in the Miss Alaska Scholarship Pageant. Identifying herself as a marathon runner emphasizes her tenacity and goal orientation, and her distaste for pomp and circumstance is evidenced by her courthouse marriage to Todd Palin on Aug. 29, 1988, and the couple's decision to eat their wedding dinner at Wendy's. After marriage, Palin did not seek prestigious professional positions, working instead in customer service at an Anchorage electric company and part-time in the evenings and weekends at a local broadcasting station.

Although Palin downplays party affiliation in her speaking engagements, preferring to align herself with independents and those who support the Tea Party movement, she became a registered Republican in 1982 and explains her choice by saying that she is "a believer in individual rights and responsibilities rather than heavy-handed government; in free-market principles that included reward for hard work, respect for equality, support for a strong military; and a belief that America is the best country on earth" (45).

Palin links her political career with her commitment to family; in fact, during her inauguration as governor, she promised to be a "'protective mom' to the state" (182). Told by one politician in Wasilla that she couldn't win because of her children -- "The three strikes against you are Track, Bristol, and Willow" (71) -- she cast such predictions aside, becoming a city council member, mayor, and governor by celebrating Alaskans as "hardworking, unpretentious, patriotic, and ready for honest leadership" (114) and working on their behalf. The emphasis on motherhood that serves her so well today began long ago, when she was criticized for working full-time while rearing several children. "It wasn't the last time I'd find that there's no better training ground for politics than motherhood," she writes. "At one point during the general election, motherhood became the focus of a unique line of questioning. In my responses to a series of debate questions on abortion, I remained consistent and sincere, explaining how personal and sensitive the issue is and that good people can disagree" (115).

On behalf of children, Palin emphasizes funding for education, school services for special needs children, alcohol and drug rehabilitation for parents and others, and programs to curb domestic violence. Calling children the "most precious resource" (122) and suggesting that political change is one way to improve their lives, Palin provides anecdotes that illustrate her love for children and her belief in independence and individual authority. For example, when Piper was learning to ride her bicycle, she "crashed headfirst into the bushes bordering the lawn." Then Piper jumped up, shouting "Yay, me!" and delighting her mother. "And she got to shout it to the world with no one to shush her or to tell her to be humble and quiet" (138), writes Palin.

One of the most polarizing decisions Palin made was to give birth to a son named Trig, who has Down syndrome. Briefly but with intensity, Palin tells about being on the road, learning about the condition, and thinking about abortion: "And for a split second it hit me: I'm out of town. No one knows I'm pregnant. No one would ever have to know" (172). Although Palin states that 90 percent of Down syndrome babies are aborted (178), she opted to have the child and supports other parents who do likewise. Politically, Palin agrees with Feminists for Life, which opposes abortion but supports contraception education and services. 

When Palin was selected by John McCain to be his running mate, Trig continued to be central to her life, and she faced criticism for having him on stage with her at the Republican National Convention. A female New York federal judge accused her of using him as a "prop." Palin responded angrily in her memoir:

I'm a mom.  He's my baby.  Who is this woman to say I cannot hold my baby in public?  No one told me that running for office means a woman candidate has to switch off her maternal instincts and hide her children from view. If that's required, then count me out.

Let's debate ideas.  Let's argue about legislation and policy.  Let's talk about political philosophy.  But leave my children alone (372).

Palin considers her children as important as her bid for political office and tells one anecdote about the evening of her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul:

Just before I left the hotel room to hit the convention stage, on the evening of September 3, I noticed that Trig needed changing. I also noticed that we had run out of diapers. After a frantic, hotel-wide search, someone found a stack, and the last thing I did before heading down to give the biggest speech of my life was to change the baby (240).
What some readers might consider platitudes are at the heart of Palin's memoir. Never missing an opportunity to argue that there is "no greater service than mothering" (342) or that she loves the "comforting chaos of family life" (398), Palin also identifies with parents who are torn between work and family: "I felt like a bit of a captive, pulled away from my loved ones in favor of a 'higher priority,' as though in the final analysis there is any such thing" (261). In an excerpt from one speech, Palin again connects a commitment to family with political efforts, saying, "Every child is beautiful before God, and dear to Him for their own sake.  And the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable" (323).

There is no question that Palin's appeal to middle-class American families is rooted in her desire to have a strong marriage and to be a good mother to Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. When she tells readers that Track didn't want her to run for the Senate because he needed her to be hockey manager (341), parents identify with her. At the end of the memoir and in a passionate outpouring of love that departs from the tone of the rest of the text, Palin thanks her family: "You are my reason for living.  I breathe you.  If everything else were to all go away, as long as I have you, then life is good.  I look at you and see miracles in all your lives and know there is a God" (413).

References to disappointment are few. The overall message of Going Rogue appears in the lines, "By His grace, an American life is an extraordinary life" (413), "The best rewards often lie on the other side of pain" (27), and "You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there" (276). However, there are moments in which Palin acknowledges painful setbacks in her characteristically folksy manner: "After a while, some of the giddy gets knocked right out of you" (222). When Bristol told her mother she was pregnant, her mother responded with love. "Thanks, Mom," Bristol said. "I love you, too.  But I hate this morning, and I feel like I'm going to throw up" (235). Part of Bristol's fear, of course, was rooted in her mother's growing celebrity and the fact that Bristol's story about being pregnant and unmarried would be made public.

Conclusion

Going Rogue both fails and succeeds. It is not A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's poetic story about loss and going on, or Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt's coming to terms with the death of his daughter. But that is, of course, part of its appeal to those who follow Palin. Going Rogue succeeds because of the vignettes that make the former governor of Alaska accessible. For example, when Piper gives journalists who are traveling with Palin stickers with hearts on them, parents recognize themselves in the story, especially when they learn what the stickers said: "Vote for Piper's Mom" (258).

It is Palin's love of family and her unflappable patriotism that compel her fans to hold up tubes of lipstick and to wave American flags at her events. Her popularity increases book sales, and book sales make her more popular. "Whether you love her or hate her, you don‘t go to sleep when Sarah Palin comes on" (Allison 23A), said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. Similar support appears in a tribute written after Palin was chosen one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2010. Musician Ted Nugent wrote about her, "If Sarah Palin played a loud, grinding instrument, she would be in my band" (51).

Memoir remains a perplexing and controversial genre. It is particularly susceptible to accusations of exaggeration, misrepresentation, and arrogance. Like Hillary Clinton and others, Sarah Palin wrote Going Rogue to appeal to possible voters, to defend herself against sexism, and to address her past and her political goals before biographers, journalists, and historians could add more to the ever-increasing canon about her. Measuring the impact of Going Rogue on her successes and failures will be impossible; however, the book remains a significant document, precisely because memoir is by definition the carefully considered expression of those who can describe themselves with authentic voices and whose stories matter to a wide range of people. By writing the book with Vincent, Palin contributed to a genre that provides another filter through which readers can access information about national and international figures who change the course of history.

Those who find Sarah Palin a compelling figure and those who are alienated by her would find Going Rogue to be two different texts. If Palin is to have future political success, much of it will be the result of the ideas she expresses in her memoir and upcoming book. Even more of her success will be the result of the connection she has made and continues to make with "commonsense conservative women" -- many of them mothers -- who constitute her fan base and who make up the "whole stampede of pink elephants crossing the line."

Jan Whitt, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado, writes about literary journalism, media studies, and political memoir.

Works Cited

Baird, Julia.  "Too Hot to Handle."  Newsweek.com 3 June 2010: n.p.

Barbour, Jefferson.  "Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' Hits Number One."  Virginia Books  Examiner.com 26 November 2010: n.p.

Davidson, Sara.  "The Gray Zone."  Book July/August 1999: 49-50.

Davis, Susan.  "Sales of Palin's ‘Going Rogue' Prompt Another Press Run."  Wall Street  Journal.com 17 Nov. 2009: n.p.

Fitzpatrick, Laura.  "How Did Sarah Palin Write Her Memoir So Fast?"  Time.com  7   Oct. 2009: n.p.

Franke-Ruta, Garance.  "Record Numbers of Republican Women are Running for House Seats."  WashingtonPost.com 1 May 2010: n.p.

Fritze, John.  "Women Pounding on Governor Mansions' Glass Ceilings."  USA             Today.com 22 June 2010: n.p.

"Is Newsweek's 'Saint Sarah' Cover Story Mocking or Praising Palin?"  Fox News.com. 15 June 2010: n.p.

Halperin, Mark.  "A Foot in the Race."  Time 26 July 2010: 32-33.

Klein, Joe.  "It's Her Party."  Time 22 Feb. 2010: 21.

Miller, Lisa.  "Saint Sarah."  Newsweek.com 21 June 2010: n.p.

Nugent, Ted.  "Sarah Palin."  Newsweek 10 May 2010:  51.

Palin, Sarah.  Going Rogue: An American Life.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

Payne, Scott.  "Democrats and Sarah Palin."  WashingtonExaminer.com 8 July 2010: n.p.

Sherry, Allison.  "Palin Moves to Nuanced Tactics."  The Denver Post 23 May 2010: 23A.
"How's that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?" 

Sarah Palin's parody of Barack Obama's presidential campaign slogan elicited enthusiastic applause and a roar of laughter during a February 2010 Opryland Hotel engagement (Klein 21), and the trademark question has delighted her supporters many times since. Certainly, the size and exuberance of Palin's fan base help to explain the popularity of her memoir Going Rogue: An American Life (2009), which, according to HarperCollins, sold 700,000 copies during the first week (Barbour n.p.).

Writing her memoir was such a priority for Palin that she cites it as one of the reasons she resigned as governor of Alaska seventeen months early. Palin wasted no time writing and publishing Going Rogue, completing the 413-page book in approximately four months (Fitzpatrick n.p.) with the help of ghostwriter Lynn Vincent, who has co-authored several books and writes for WORLD, a Christian news magazine. 

Although Palin has been attacked for collaborating with an experienced writer, her supporters respond by saying that Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, former CIA chief George Tenet, and other entertainment, political, and sports celebrities have employed them, too. Some of her critics say four months is not long enough to write a reputable book, but, again, others disagree: "When she resigned as governor, she had a lot more time and was able to really devote herself full-time [sic] to writing the book," said Tina Andreadis of HarperCollins. "That's really all that there is" (Fitzpatrick n.p.).

Accounting for Palin's celebrity status requires more than an analysis of the content and popularity of her memoir, which will be followed with the pre-Christmas 2010 publication of her second book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag. Unlike political memoirs by Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama, Going Rogue may or may not be a narrative intended to propel Palin into public office. Although there is no question that the book has two purposes -- to respond formally to her whirlwind 2008 vice presidential candidacy and to make clear her political position -- she has not announced plans to run for president or for any other political office.

Although addressing Palin's account of her personal and political development in Going Rogue is the purpose of this essay, a reference to two cover photographs and their accompanying stories in a prominent news magazine provides an important symbolic and historical context for this study. The Nov. 23, 2009, and June 21, 2010 covers of Newsweek symbolize Palin's ascendancy in the American political sphere in a way that her memoir cannot. The controversial cover from 2009, which originally ran in Runner's World, features Palin in running clothes with her elbow on the American flag. The accompanying headlines reads, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah?: She's Bad News for the GOP -- and for Everybody Else, Too." On the 2010 Newsweek cover, the photo of a conservatively dressed Palin -- her head enveloped by a halo -- is displayed above the headline: "Saint Sarah: What Palin's Appeal to Conservative Christian Women Says about Feminism and the Future of the Religious Right."

The first cover story ridicules then-Governor Palin and dismisses her by stating that she is "bad news" for everyone. Although still parodying her, the second story acknowledges her importance to those who respect her religious perspective and who share at least some of her political views. Reporter Lisa Miller, whose expertise at Newsweek is the history and impact of religion and who wrote "Saint Sarah," said she considers Palin a phenomenon in American politics.

On June 14, 2010, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly interviewed Miller in a segment entitled "Is Newsweek's 'Saint Palin' Cover Story Mocking or Praising Palin?" "I didn't think it was a bad article," O'Reilly tells Miller. "It's not a slam. You didn't write a slam." Assuring him that criticizing Palin was not her intention, Miller said, "I'm trying to explain to people that what Sarah Palin is offering conservative, Bible-believing women is something very, very powerful ... I think one of the things that's so appealing about her is that she has this universal female message, and that, you know, the left overlooks it to its own peril."

This analysis of Going Rogue begins where the "The O'Reilly Factor" ends. Unlike Hillary Clinton's Living History or Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Going Rogue is dedicated primarily to a different kind of underrepresented community, one not often celebrated by intellectual elites or addressed in academic journals. The "bless their hearts" and "you betcha" vernacular that alienates some of Palin's critics endears her to others. What some consider her convoluted sentence structure -- "Look out, Washington, because there's a whole stampede of pink elephants crossing the line, and the ETA stampeding through is November 2, 2010. Lotta women comin' together" (Halperin 33) -- makes perfect sense to those who speak as she does and who empathize with her and concur with her message. 

Given the polish of Palin's two-minute video released July 8, 2010, it is clear that Palin is becoming more confident and coherent as she learns from political image-makers. "Palin's video proves that she is savvy and sophisticated enough to harness her star power for political effect," writes Mark Halperin in "A Foot in the Race." Calling her "the most arresting political figure other than the President" (33), Halperin, like Miller and other journalists, recognizes her appeal and acknowledges her evolution as a public figure. "Many Christian women loathe Palin, of course, and many men love her, but a certain kind of conservative, Bible-believing woman worships her," Miller writes. "Palin has her faults, but the left is partially to blame for her ascent. Its native mistrust of religion, of conservative believers in particular, left the gap that Palin now fills" ("Saint Sarah" n.p.).

Certainly, what Miller has called a "mom of faith" movement and a "mom uprising" ("Saint Sarah" n.p.) and Halperin has described as a "mom awakening" ("A Foot in the Race" 32) helps to explain the popular appeal and financial success of Going Rogue. This essay addresses the historical context, the literary impact, and the social implications of Palin's memoir and addresses the place of autobiography, memoir, and personal essays in the political arena.

Going Rogue as Political Memoir

Part of the appeal of political memoir is that it is exactly what it appears to be. 

Candidates for public office and those retiring from the political sphere describe themselves through the filter of memory; account for past decisions with impunity; include or exclude particular events, family members, friends, or political operatives; explain their goals for themselves and their constituents; and sell books that have two clear, often overtly stated goals -- to win an election or influence political debate and to make money. 

In a journalistic and literary world that must contend with the veracity of autobiography, biography, documentary, and films "based on fact" and that must overcome ignominious examples -- Stephen Glass's fraudulent articles published by The New Republic and James Frey's acknowledged exaggerations and lies in A Million Little Pieces are cases in point -- at least one genre is what it is. Individuals may use political memoir to further their careers, to fill their coffers, and to explain past failures and successes. Readers and critics may believe only as much or as little as they choose and may employ the same critical sensibility they do when watching a television advertisement for Geico or Pepsi. If a reader considers Hillary Clinton a puppet of the Democratic Party, Living History is not likely to change his or her mind. If a reader believes Barack Obama to be a person of integrity, Dreams from My Father will reinforce that perspective and provide an explanation for Obama's moral development.

Although several of the candidates in the 2008 presidential race published memoirs -- including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama -- one of the most provocative narratives was published after the election and seems to provide evidence that its author might again run for political office. Going Rogue reached the top of the nonfiction bestsellers list and sold more copies than even Palin's supporters could have predicted. After an initial print run of 1.5 million copies, HarperCollins announced a second printing of 1 million more. In November 2009, sales of Palin's memoir surpassed I, Alex Cross by James Patterson; Under the Dome by Stephen King; and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Although Nielsen BookScan said Going Rogue sold 469,000 during its first week (not the 700,000 that HarperCollins claims), company spokespeople explained that Nielsen BookScan did not include sales at mass market retailers such as Sam's Club and Walmart. "If the 700,000 figure is accurate," Jefferson Barbour writes, "that places Palin's memoir ahead of Living History, the 2003 memoir by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton" ("Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' Hits Number One" n.p.).

Some immediately dismissed the book's success because Palin employed a ghostwriter (how much of the memoir was really hers?), others because retailers such as Target and Amazon sold the book at bargain rates, and still others because conservative groups bought advance copies of the book. However, few acknowledge what Palin's fan base understands: Going Rogue provided Christians, conservatives, heterosexual parents, political aficionados, middle-class women, rural Americans, and others an opportunity to see their own lives in print and to celebrate someone who represents them with courage and without apology. 

Often ridiculed by others, individuals in some of these groups identify with Palin when she and members of her family are attacked for their religious beliefs, for their emphasis on family, and for their accents and regional phrases. This empathy is but one reason for their belief in her and the stories she tells in Going Rogue. Scott Payne of the Washington Examiner warns:

Each time liberals like Robert Gibbs take a moment to mock the know nothingness of Sarah Palin, they reinforce a stereotype about what it means to be liberal to precisely the voters they have the hardest time reaching: the ones in the middle of the country ... With each barb they hurl her way, liberals participate in a self-fulfilling prophecy that only serves to reinforce feelings of alienation amongst more rural voters with whom Palin continues to have an overwhelming degree of support.  And the more those stereotypes are reinforced in the current national climate-a climate that puts most Americans on the other side of the Obama administration on things like the Arizona immigration law, provides the President with his lowest approval rating amongst independents to date, and economic confidence continuing to sink-the more Palin and her camp come out on the winning side of the national debate. ("Democrats and Sarah Palin" n.p.)

When Going Rogue hit number one, Barbour wrote, "Sarah Palin has been the butt of many jokes since making her debut on the national stage late in 2008, but someone out there must like her" ("Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' Hits Number One"). Evidence that Barbour's calculated understatement is correct may be partially indicated by the record number of Republican and conservative women (they are not always one and the same) now seeking public office. Palin's example and her support for candidates she considers worthy say a great deal about the pink elephant in the room.

"Commonsense Conservative Women"

In "A Foot in the Race," Halperin quotes Palin as saying that 2010 is the year when "commonsense conservative women get things done for our country": "Moms kinda just know when something's wrong," Palin said. "You thought pit bulls were tough? Well, you don't wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!" Citing Palin's prediction of a "mom awakening" in the United States, Halperin said the two-minute video released by the former governor in the summer of 2010 strategically "features image after image of everyday, determined, smiling, patriotic mothers and grandmothers" (32).

Even those who are drawn to Palin's message are trying to decide what to make of her success, and, as Miller suggested during her conversation with O'Reilly, Palin's detractors ignore her at their own peril. In an article entitled "Record Numbers of Republican Women Running for House Seats," Garance Franke-Ruta argues that the "surge" in the number of women registering to launch a political campaign has occurred "largely under the radar" (n.p.). 

In 1992 -- called "The Year of the Woman" -- the number of women in Congress "reached double digits for the first time," with 222 women filing to run for the House and 29 for the Senate. By May 2010, according to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, 107 Republican women had filed to run for the House. The previous high was 91 in 1994 (Franke-Ruta n.p.). In June 2010 there were thirteen Republican and ten Democratic women running for the Senate (Fritze n.p.). Those who discount the importance of the latter figures state that approximately 67 percent of the Republican women seeking House seats face Democratic incumbents, a fact that has historically presented significant challenges (Franke-Ruta n.p.). 

Some of these women can no doubt expect support from Palin. Her enthusiasm about political hopeful Nikki Haley of South Carolina came as Haley was accused of extramarital affairs, and Palin helped Haley win her gubernatorial primary. Although it is difficult to argue that the publication of Going Rogue directly sparked political activism by women, Palin has continued to be a factor in the success of conservatives running for office, having promoted candidates such as Carly Fiorina of California in her Senate race and Jane Norton of Colorado in hers. (On Aug. 10, 2010, Norton lost the election to Tea Party candidate Ken Buck.)

Unfortunately, the conservative and Republican women running for political office face the same misogyny that women of all political persuasions have endured. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who is often objectified sexually, is joined by candidate Nikki Haley, representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, author Michelle Malkin, Palin, and others who are familiar targets of sexism. In two of the most egregious examples, the Playboy site placed (and then pulled) a column by Guy Cimbalo entitled "Ten Conservative Women I'd Like to Hate Fuck" (June 1, 2009), and reporters repeatedly have asked Palin about whether she has had breast implants. Perhaps less offensive are comments by Republican Ken Buck, who won the Senate primary in Colorado on Aug. 10, 2010, and who told supporters during his campaign in Weld County to vote for him because he doesn't wear high heels. (He then told the group he wears real cowboy boots with "bullshit" on them.)

Other statements have been equally unpopular. For example, the media described a day in 2010 when four women won primary and gubernatorial elections as "ladies night," and, according to a Newsweek article entitled "Too Hot to Handle," critics were quick to respond. "These women are not competing to see who has the most smokin' bod," said Julia Baird, author of Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians. "They want to run the country, or their part of it. They want votes, not free drinks -- and we need properly scrutinized candidates, not circus performers" ("Too Hot to Handle" n.p.).

Certainly, Palin's memoir -- for which she received a seven-figure advance -- will help her reach her constituency if she decides to pursue political office. On SarahPAC, her political action committee, Palin posted the following entreaty: "SarahPAC supporters make it possible to get out there and fight for what we believe in. Please stand with us today. We won't let anyone tell us to sit down and shut up. We're going to stand up, stand together, and fight for what's right!" ("Sales of Palin's 'Going Rogue' Prompt Another Press Run" n.p.) Funds from book sales provide Palin with an even more powerful microphone.

Memoir in Political and Social Movements

Memoir has long been a way for politicians to present themselves to potential voters and to account for what they did while in office. After Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and Vietnam, for example, everyone from Richard M. Nixon to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein availed themselves of the genre. In more recent years, those involved with those events, including Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham of the Washington Post, have penned their life stories. 

Memoir allows authors the opportunity to describe themselves, to address criticisms and perceived misconceptions that have accumulated over time, and to omit references to events they would prefer to forget. Athletes, authors, military officers, presidents, teachers, television anchors, and others have availed themselves of the long-form personal essay.

However, although all memoir tacitly asks readers to interpret the author positively, political memoir has the potential to affect the future of nations. Politicians from Nixon to Obama have employed memoir as a way to appear more accessible, although the effect is sometimes quite the opposite. Few of us disclose everything even to those who know us best, so ultimately, memoir both reveals and obfuscates -- much like the stories we tell about ourselves at dinner parties. Quite simply, we all have ways we prefer to retell the events that shape us. This study focuses upon the ways we define ourselves in a genre that is called by one proponent the "Gray Zone," upon the way in which Palin and others defend themselves against institutional and personal sexism, and upon how politicians and others strategically seek to write their own stories before others do.

In addition to an analysis of the ways Palin describes herself and is described by others, this essay explores how we reconstruct ourselves in a public space, the ways we remember conversations and decisions that have determined our lives, and the ways memoir factors into the study of extended nonfiction. Literary journalist Sara Davidson, author of Loose Change, Real Property, Leap! and other bestsellers, addresses the role of memoir, a particularly rich and problematic category of nonfiction, in her article "The Gray Zone." Davidson deals generally with the complexity of nonfiction and in particular with the difficulties she has encountered while writing memoir.

Davidson begins with a reference to Patrick Kennedy, editor of his father's True at First Light, and his decision to publish the work as "fictionalized memoir." She then asks the question that drives this study: "When a story has its wellspring in life-in actual events and real people-what constitutes a fictional rendering and what constitutes memoir?" In journalism, she says, the answer matters "absolutely" because reporters have a responsibility not to "invent, change or embellish the smallest detail." In the "gray zone" where she writes, however, the answer for her (and, presumably, for us) is not so clear. She writes,

When a writer sets out to tell a story, he immediately finds himself
constrained by the fallibility of memory.  No one can recall the exact words of a conversation that took place a few days ago, let alone years, even if the writer attempts to recreate that conversation faithfully.  In addition, the very process of translating mood, nonverbal signals and emotions into words creates a reality on the page that does not exactly mirror the event in life.  But beyond this, the writer makes a deliberate choice as to how much he will permit himself to take liberties (49).

Ultimately, Davidson argues for what she calls "not a better system of classification" for nonfiction works, but "full disclosure" (50) by the authors themselves.

None of the problems with writing memoir suggests that the genre should be dismissed. Although it is fraught with peril, memoir remains a source of personal information and allows writers the opportunity to be thoughtful and to reflect upon their roles in the community, the society, the nation, and the world. What emerges is often no more and no less reliable than texts described as biography, history, or even journalism.

Like other political memoirs, Palin's life chronicle is intended to further her political career, although it is too early to predict what she may want to accomplish in the political and social spheres. But unlike memoirs by many political figures, Going Rogue is a family chronicle; it is also a document that makes clear her positions on gay marriage, government intervention in individual lives, gun control, reproductive rights, special needs children, taxation, and other often divisive issues.

Family as Metaphor for the Nation

One of the reasons Going Rogue succeeds is Palin's repeated use of the family unit as a metaphor for community and for the nation itself. In order to develop this theme, Palin limits information about her childhood and adolescence to the most pertinent facts. Born in Sandpoint, Idaho to Chuck and Sally Heath, Palin establishes her credentials as a grassroots politician and an everyday American: Her mother was a server in the cafeteria of the Eagle River Elementary School, and later a school secretary. Her father was a schoolteacher at Chugiak Elementary School. She has a brother and two sisters. Rarely does Palin provide more than a timeline; once, when discussing her father, she writes, "It seems he was determined not to replicate his family's brokenness in his own" (11). 

Palin writes that she grew up attending an Assembly of God church and later a nondenominational Bible church. She uses language familiar to Protestants when she states, "I made the conscious decision [one] summer to put my life in my Creator's hands and trust Him as I sought my life's path" (22). Palin tells readers that she has always loved to write and to read and that for a time, she wanted to be a sports reporter, graduating with a broadcasting degree from the University of Idaho. She said she has always read voraciously: "From The Pearl to Jonathan Livingston Seagull to Animal Farm and anything by C.S. Lewis, I would put down one book just long enough to pick up another" (27). 

No fact is incidental to the portrait of herself that Palin presents. For example, she emphasizes her belief in hard work and independence throughout Going Rogue, thereby appealing to voters who believe -- to cite a popular cliché -- in the virtue of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. When she was growing up, she cleaned an office building, played sports, and worked as a babysitter and waitress. "The expectation was that we would all go to college and pay our own way, no questions asked" (32), she says. "Hard work and passion matter most of all" (41). 

Acknowledging that many of her opportunities came because she was a "product of Title IX" (29), Palin chose some traditional ways to pay for college, relying upon scholarships she won in the Miss Wasilla pageant and as second runner-up and "Miss Congeniality" in the Miss Alaska Scholarship Pageant. Identifying herself as a marathon runner emphasizes her tenacity and goal orientation, and her distaste for pomp and circumstance is evidenced by her courthouse marriage to Todd Palin on Aug. 29, 1988, and the couple's decision to eat their wedding dinner at Wendy's. After marriage, Palin did not seek prestigious professional positions, working instead in customer service at an Anchorage electric company and part-time in the evenings and weekends at a local broadcasting station.

Although Palin downplays party affiliation in her speaking engagements, preferring to align herself with independents and those who support the Tea Party movement, she became a registered Republican in 1982 and explains her choice by saying that she is "a believer in individual rights and responsibilities rather than heavy-handed government; in free-market principles that included reward for hard work, respect for equality, support for a strong military; and a belief that America is the best country on earth" (45).

Palin links her political career with her commitment to family; in fact, during her inauguration as governor, she promised to be a "'protective mom' to the state" (182). Told by one politician in Wasilla that she couldn't win because of her children -- "The three strikes against you are Track, Bristol, and Willow" (71) -- she cast such predictions aside, becoming a city council member, mayor, and governor by celebrating Alaskans as "hardworking, unpretentious, patriotic, and ready for honest leadership" (114) and working on their behalf. The emphasis on motherhood that serves her so well today began long ago, when she was criticized for working full-time while rearing several children. "It wasn't the last time I'd find that there's no better training ground for politics than motherhood," she writes. "At one point during the general election, motherhood became the focus of a unique line of questioning. In my responses to a series of debate questions on abortion, I remained consistent and sincere, explaining how personal and sensitive the issue is and that good people can disagree" (115).

On behalf of children, Palin emphasizes funding for education, school services for special needs children, alcohol and drug rehabilitation for parents and others, and programs to curb domestic violence. Calling children the "most precious resource" (122) and suggesting that political change is one way to improve their lives, Palin provides anecdotes that illustrate her love for children and her belief in independence and individual authority. For example, when Piper was learning to ride her bicycle, she "crashed headfirst into the bushes bordering the lawn." Then Piper jumped up, shouting "Yay, me!" and delighting her mother. "And she got to shout it to the world with no one to shush her or to tell her to be humble and quiet" (138), writes Palin.

One of the most polarizing decisions Palin made was to give birth to a son named Trig, who has Down syndrome. Briefly but with intensity, Palin tells about being on the road, learning about the condition, and thinking about abortion: "And for a split second it hit me: I'm out of town. No one knows I'm pregnant. No one would ever have to know" (172). Although Palin states that 90 percent of Down syndrome babies are aborted (178), she opted to have the child and supports other parents who do likewise. Politically, Palin agrees with Feminists for Life, which opposes abortion but supports contraception education and services. 

When Palin was selected by John McCain to be his running mate, Trig continued to be central to her life, and she faced criticism for having him on stage with her at the Republican National Convention. A female New York federal judge accused her of using him as a "prop." Palin responded angrily in her memoir:

I'm a mom.  He's my baby.  Who is this woman to say I cannot hold my baby in public?  No one told me that running for office means a woman candidate has to switch off her maternal instincts and hide her children from view. If that's required, then count me out.

Let's debate ideas.  Let's argue about legislation and policy.  Let's talk about political philosophy.  But leave my children alone (372).

Palin considers her children as important as her bid for political office and tells one anecdote about the evening of her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul:

Just before I left the hotel room to hit the convention stage, on the evening of September 3, I noticed that Trig needed changing. I also noticed that we had run out of diapers. After a frantic, hotel-wide search, someone found a stack, and the last thing I did before heading down to give the biggest speech of my life was to change the baby (240).
What some readers might consider platitudes are at the heart of Palin's memoir. Never missing an opportunity to argue that there is "no greater service than mothering" (342) or that she loves the "comforting chaos of family life" (398), Palin also identifies with parents who are torn between work and family: "I felt like a bit of a captive, pulled away from my loved ones in favor of a 'higher priority,' as though in the final analysis there is any such thing" (261). In an excerpt from one speech, Palin again connects a commitment to family with political efforts, saying, "Every child is beautiful before God, and dear to Him for their own sake.  And the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable" (323).

There is no question that Palin's appeal to middle-class American families is rooted in her desire to have a strong marriage and to be a good mother to Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. When she tells readers that Track didn't want her to run for the Senate because he needed her to be hockey manager (341), parents identify with her. At the end of the memoir and in a passionate outpouring of love that departs from the tone of the rest of the text, Palin thanks her family: "You are my reason for living.  I breathe you.  If everything else were to all go away, as long as I have you, then life is good.  I look at you and see miracles in all your lives and know there is a God" (413).

References to disappointment are few. The overall message of Going Rogue appears in the lines, "By His grace, an American life is an extraordinary life" (413), "The best rewards often lie on the other side of pain" (27), and "You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there" (276). However, there are moments in which Palin acknowledges painful setbacks in her characteristically folksy manner: "After a while, some of the giddy gets knocked right out of you" (222). When Bristol told her mother she was pregnant, her mother responded with love. "Thanks, Mom," Bristol said. "I love you, too.  But I hate this morning, and I feel like I'm going to throw up" (235). Part of Bristol's fear, of course, was rooted in her mother's growing celebrity and the fact that Bristol's story about being pregnant and unmarried would be made public.

Conclusion

Going Rogue both fails and succeeds. It is not A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's poetic story about loss and going on, or Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt's coming to terms with the death of his daughter. But that is, of course, part of its appeal to those who follow Palin. Going Rogue succeeds because of the vignettes that make the former governor of Alaska accessible. For example, when Piper gives journalists who are traveling with Palin stickers with hearts on them, parents recognize themselves in the story, especially when they learn what the stickers said: "Vote for Piper's Mom" (258).

It is Palin's love of family and her unflappable patriotism that compel her fans to hold up tubes of lipstick and to wave American flags at her events. Her popularity increases book sales, and book sales make her more popular. "Whether you love her or hate her, you don‘t go to sleep when Sarah Palin comes on" (Allison 23A), said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. Similar support appears in a tribute written after Palin was chosen one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2010. Musician Ted Nugent wrote about her, "If Sarah Palin played a loud, grinding instrument, she would be in my band" (51).

Memoir remains a perplexing and controversial genre. It is particularly susceptible to accusations of exaggeration, misrepresentation, and arrogance. Like Hillary Clinton and others, Sarah Palin wrote Going Rogue to appeal to possible voters, to defend herself against sexism, and to address her past and her political goals before biographers, journalists, and historians could add more to the ever-increasing canon about her. Measuring the impact of Going Rogue on her successes and failures will be impossible; however, the book remains a significant document, precisely because memoir is by definition the carefully considered expression of those who can describe themselves with authentic voices and whose stories matter to a wide range of people. By writing the book with Vincent, Palin contributed to a genre that provides another filter through which readers can access information about national and international figures who change the course of history.

Those who find Sarah Palin a compelling figure and those who are alienated by her would find Going Rogue to be two different texts. If Palin is to have future political success, much of it will be the result of the ideas she expresses in her memoir and upcoming book. Even more of her success will be the result of the connection she has made and continues to make with "commonsense conservative women" -- many of them mothers -- who constitute her fan base and who make up the "whole stampede of pink elephants crossing the line."

Jan Whitt, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado, writes about literary journalism, media studies, and political memoir.

Works Cited

Baird, Julia.  "Too Hot to Handle."  Newsweek.com 3 June 2010: n.p.

Barbour, Jefferson.  "Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' Hits Number One."  Virginia Books  Examiner.com 26 November 2010: n.p.

Davidson, Sara.  "The Gray Zone."  Book July/August 1999: 49-50.

Davis, Susan.  "Sales of Palin's ‘Going Rogue' Prompt Another Press Run."  Wall Street  Journal.com 17 Nov. 2009: n.p.

Fitzpatrick, Laura.  "How Did Sarah Palin Write Her Memoir So Fast?"  Time.com  7   Oct. 2009: n.p.

Franke-Ruta, Garance.  "Record Numbers of Republican Women are Running for House Seats."  WashingtonPost.com 1 May 2010: n.p.

Fritze, John.  "Women Pounding on Governor Mansions' Glass Ceilings."  USA             Today.com 22 June 2010: n.p.

"Is Newsweek's 'Saint Sarah' Cover Story Mocking or Praising Palin?"  Fox News.com. 15 June 2010: n.p.

Halperin, Mark.  "A Foot in the Race."  Time 26 July 2010: 32-33.

Klein, Joe.  "It's Her Party."  Time 22 Feb. 2010: 21.

Miller, Lisa.  "Saint Sarah."  Newsweek.com 21 June 2010: n.p.

Nugent, Ted.  "Sarah Palin."  Newsweek 10 May 2010:  51.

Palin, Sarah.  Going Rogue: An American Life.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

Payne, Scott.  "Democrats and Sarah Palin."  WashingtonExaminer.com 8 July 2010: n.p.

Sherry, Allison.  "Palin Moves to Nuanced Tactics."  The Denver Post 23 May 2010: 23A.

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