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Rogue Thoughts: Chapter by Chapter on Sarah Palin (Chapter 3)
First Things ^ | 11-27-09 | John Mark Reynolds

Posted on 12/01/2009 8:39:32 AM PST by Bob J

Chapter 2

Chapter Three

Palin runs and wins an election for governor in this chapter. The pace of this book reminds you of how young Palin really is for national life.

She truly is an outsider.

She hates “deals” and “power brokers.” Post-Obama and the Great Recession it would be foolish to dismiss this authentic rage. She sounds most herself when she hitting corrupt special interests that lock people out of decision making. She sounds least like herself when repeating 1980’s Republican bromides.

Palin is a populist of the heart, but too sensible to let her populism take her to the lunatic fringe. If she can verbally negotiate the tension in future speeches between Reaganism and populism, she will have found a winning electoral strategy.

Palin is No Theocrat

Palin’s unhinged critics keep seeing her as a theocrat, but the book should end that talk for anyone not starving raving mad.

Palin is very religious and this obviously informs her personal life deeply, but I see no evidence that it impacts her public policy decisions in any way foreign to the American experiment. In fact, if anything one can question whether Palin’s faith is not too privatized.

She argues public policy on the merits, but then describes her final decision in passionate terms using the language of religion. This is standard American practice. So far in the text her faith appears to inform the person Palin becomes who then makes political decisions using reasons available to any American.

If she is “too religious,” then so are most Americans. She is no prude and obviously has lived in the real world.

My guess is that faith forms her moral intuitions and makes certain views, like small government, plausible, but is not used to determine positions where it has nothing directly to say. It is hard to see her using the Bible (directly) to determine energy policy given her discussions in this chapter.

In fact, she may use the Bible the way she used Plato earlier . . . as a way to sanctify (just as Plato intellectualized) her decisions. Does Palin every bow the knee to an idea contrary to her lived experience? The wise often do this as they know the limits of their own experience, but a fool with power never does.

There is hope in Palin’s resignation for the energy board for here, it seems, was one selfless act driven by what Lewis would call the Tao.

It is common to use old books merely to confirm and not to challenge our ideas, but would be most unfortunate since it would mark her as a superficial Christian. A Christian must always be frightened by the Bible, because it makes demands of him that only a saint could even come close to meeting and that no saint ever believes he has met.

A more charitable reading, more likely at this point in the book, is that her faith gives her a basic view of reality and that she then uses that view to make fact-based decisions. Since her views are fairly standard Christian ideas and America historically has been overwhelmingly Christian, her basic views have not had to change when facing political realities.

If this is the basic relationship of her faith to her politics, then her views are well within the Christian and American mainstream. Her private religious practices may (or may not) be more esoteric, but then they did not seem to impact her public policy decisions and so are only our concern if she makes them part of her public persona or platform.

She has not done so in this book so far.

Even on this charitable reading of Palin, however, she still falls into the unfortunate habit of using religious language improperly to baptize her decisions. She should lose this if she can. While American presidents including Franklin Roosevelt (!) have done this in a more extreme manner, Palin will be held to a higher standard than they were as an Evangelical Christian.

She should do nothing to comfort those who think Billy Graham, the Bishop of Phoenix, or Al Mohler are budding theocrats.

Palin as Governor

Palin wanted to clean up corruption in Alaskan politics and she went after it with a vengeance. It is hard to see that she wanted to do much else.

If Palin runs for President of the United States, I suspect she will want little in terms of new domestic policy. She will throw the rascals in jail and then trim and cut. She would enjoy the trappings of office and be an excellent head of state.

Reading about her goals in office makes her resignation understandable for the first time. Palin does not think the state can solve many problems. Where the state constitution gave the state power and that power had been used to create financial reserves, Palin saw political rats eating the patrimony of Alaska.

When she cleaned the rats out of government, her major mission was accomplished. She was not one to grow government or develop new programs. She is a Cal Coolidge in that regard, though she loves the “bully pulpit” aspect of the job more than Silent Cal ever did. Nobody will ever call her Silent Sarah.

When the vice-presidential loss made her a polarizing figure in Alaska, she could no longer be a unifying head of the state. She had limiting governing priorities, so why stay? She had a competent second in command who wanted the job and she did not.

This is a charming picture in a politician. Perhaps Governor Palin can be trusted with power, because she wishes to do so little with it. I can easily believe that her domestic agenda would discomfort the powerful in both parties, but that actual legislation would be simple.

Palin is no Eva Peron.

Palin as Excutive: A Tough Question If Palin runs for President, we will only be able to judge her based on her short time as governor of Alaska and as mayor. What is her executive style?

If I accept her description of her time as governor, Palin obviously inspires fierce loyalty. Before her vice-presidential selection, she was able to govern as a bi-partisan figure. However, it is not clear that she can inspire the long term loyalty of subordinates more capable than she is.

All leaders must hire people who are better at parts of their job than they are. Reagan was a master of this and could inspire academics and technicians far more “competent” at tasks with fierce loyalty. Reagan was a world class leader who was content to lead . . . and kept excellent men and women nearby like Judge William Clark who could tell him the truth.

In this autobiography, Palin too often has followers or those she dazzles and I see too few long term people in her brain trust. She has no enduring kitchen cabinet or group of backers. This is very, very disturbing.

Her old allies often become new foes and she is quick with a quip to put them in her place. A good executive should command loyalty, but no produce sycophants or demand followers . . . at least in a republic.

My reading of Palin leaves me with this question, “Who are the people, smarter and more capable than she, that have stuck by Palin? Who is Palin accountable too intellectually?”

In a republic a president who cannot inspire the loyalty of the peers, and not the obedience of subordinates, runs the risk of insulating herself from critical information.

Palin as Governor: Detail Nerd

The bulk of the chapter on Palin’s years as governor remind me of what I like about her candidacy. Palin obviously cared about her state and tried to deliver on her promises.

She cared about getting the details right on the state budget, which is after all more important than getting the details right on a Plato quote in her ghost-written book.

I was reminded that before she was Palin-Hell-Raising Icon-made-divisive by attacks, she was a popular and respected reform leader. Democrats in Alaska liked her better than some Republican leaders. It is easy to see why.

She had a record of real accomplishments, including an ethics reform bill and a major gas deal.

As a working mother, she pioneered the sort of bring-your-children to work model that more companies should try.

Sarah Palin obviously was a good governor and John McCain either ruined or made her. It is hard to see which is true at the moment . . . though safe to say her bank account will be better off after this book.

I have been hard on the weaknesses of this book, but Sarah Palin has her strengths as an executive and as a leader and this chapter shows them.

If Palin is not running for President of the United States, then I am sorry to have given this pleasant little book such close scrutiny. Palin has been hit hard by gutter politics and she deserves the gratitude of every Republican for the thankless task of breathing some life into the moribund McCain campaign.

I voted for Palin and not McCain, really.

Palin, however, does not demonstrate enough growth over time in serious policy areas. I don’t care if her goal is a Fox News or Oprah variety show, but she wants (wanted?) to be taken seriously as a leader and I respect that.

I cannot respect the lack of substance. People complain about the length of this live blog, but her book is four hundred pages long. It has details about many areas of her life, but there are so few ideas.

Palin gets things done, but does she have a sufficient philosophical core? I gave her the benefit of the doubt in 2008 based on her record and I am still impressed with this record . . . but the record has not grown, her philosophy is no more clear, and that is not satisfactory if she wants to be leader of the Free World.

Palin herself knows that only a person growing and on the edge can make positive change.

Perhaps John McCain is guilty of ruining a career by promoting a person before she was ready. Perhaps.

Or perhaps I am being too critical. . . but President Obama has been taken to task (rightly I think) for his self-indulgent writings, they are masterpieces of reflection compared to this. I agree with little of his political philosophy, but he obviously has one.

Surely it is obvious that a bad philosophy is best met by a better one and not be none at all? Commonsense is an excellent philosophical tradition and I have enough Scott-Irish blood to appreciate it! Commonsense must be more than a slogan.

If Palin is going to run as a “commonsense conservative” she needs to spell out the details of how that policy will impact us.

Palin and Her Baby

Sarah Palin’s description of her last pregnancy and her reaction to the news of her baby’s special needs reminds me of another thing that I loved about her candidacy.

Despite the lame prose, the book made me tear up when it described her reaction to her pregnancy. Here was honesty, self-doubt, and candor.

Here is a person who has grown through difficulty. Here is the kind of sincere reflection on a difficult issue that matters. There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin understands the right-to-life issue and grasps its importance.

This counts for much in my mind. Sarah Palin has a well formed intellectual position on this issue and has acted admirably. Evil times make normal morality heroic and Palin acted out her beliefs in a manner that in better times would be normal, but is now rare.

I greatly admire the actions of this mother of Trig, a child in God’s image.

Palin, Social Snobbery, and the Armed Forces

There is no doubt in my mind that a good bit of the opposition to Sarah Palin is a disgusting form of snobbery. Palin talks “funny” and went to the wrong schools. She hunts and likes blue-collars sports like hockey. She is from the parts of the country, rural or urban, that are supposed to serve their betters, not rule them.

If you are from West Virginia, like I am, you are tempted to vote for Sarah Palin just to tell the bigots off. God help me, but those dismissive of the possibility that anything good can come from Alaska madden me.

Some in our culture expect the sons of Alaska, West Virginia, and disadvantaged urban areas like Compton to fight and die to protect them while they sniff and sneer and carefully keep their mercenaries away from real power.

When Wall Street receives billions in federal boodle, while Main Street is shuttered, Palin looks better to me.

When the brightest and the best of our elite schools, rob us of our freedoms and our future, then the folks in the forgotten places have a right to wonder if anything could be worse.

Palin’s son volunteered to fight for freedom, because people like the Palins always volunteer to fight for our freedoms. God bless her son and God bless her for the firm resolution that she will stand with the regular folks that are too often forgotten.

That part of Palin is refreshing and bracing. It almost makes up for the mumbled political philosophy.


Because though elitism is bad, so is anti-elitism. Education and experience are not without value and the examined life is still the best life. The folks that make America work are not perfect, but there is a wisdom in their experiences not taught in books.

My grandparents were great people and I admire them more than most of our so called leaders today.


One of my grandfathers wisely would not accept certain promotions at his work, because he knew the limits of his experiences. It was unfair, but he didn’t have the chance to learn what he need to know.

Commonsense is not always enough. Sometimes you have to know the details of your philosophy, especially as a leader.

Let me be honest as I know how to be. Most of the Republican Party seems just as self-interested as the Democrats. I have seen and heard party bosses mock religious voters behind closed doors. Nobody is fool enough to believe that Pelosi or Reid are any brighter than Palin . . . and Pelosi is responsible for worse writing.

Palin could give Harry Reid two laps in a leadership race and still beat him to the finish line.

That does not mean Palin is the right leader.

Palin frustrates me, because she has charisma and to spare. She gives as good a set speech as anyone in her generation . . . and she is obviously very bright. She is an authentic outsider, but seems unwilling to do the work to raze hell.

Those that stereotype and dismiss her would be easy to destroy, if she would just take the time to read the books she cites. Many of her critics are sexist and complacent in their arrogant assumption that she is stupid, but a book like this one does nothing to defeat them.

Palin will make money and satisfy her base, but she could do and be so much more. She has once-in-a-generation talents, but at the moment there is too little evidence that there are connected with any ideas that go beyond slogans.

When Palin was a vice-presidential candidate, I scoffed at people who thought she should wonk out. That was not her job. She was a pit bull, because she had to be. It was her job, but she has had a year to brush up and four hundred pages in which to argue her case and she has not done so.

To paraphrase an old commercial, “Where is the beef?”

It was not in her chapter on being governor. There was no vision . . . and Sarah Palin knows that if there is no vision the people perish. It would not have enough for Moses to know that his people needed to be let go, if he had not been able to organize thousands of people to march out of Egypt.

This book is an agony for those looking for a vision for the nation in these difficult times. Where is the detailed vision for an alternative future to Obama?

And for those who say that this is not what this book was about, then what is it about? It is no true autobiography. It is a political book written by a politician.

It has pages on campaign details and policy fights, but it does not explain in common language or any other kind of language where the campaigns and the policies are going. It is as if Palin is running hard in a general direction without knowing exactly where she is going.

Philosophy in this degenerate age can be a vanity . . . and is often a vanity. We talk and talk and people starve while we talk some more. Palin is right that her job is to act, but the very phrase “vain philosophy” implies that there is a true love of wisdom and just ending the vanity does not begin the wisdom.

Practical wisdom is guided not just by common sense, but by reason and the experiences of generations of wise people from ages past. Palin knows this is true, but shows no knowledge of it.

Don’t tell me a plain speaking book has to be this devoid of ideas. Read Lincoln. He could get big ideas across in simple ways to farmers with primary school educations. Read Reagan. He was not Lincoln, but he did the same thing in a television age. When I was a kid, I read Conscience of a Conservative in some yellowing paperback and it made sense to me. For heaven’s sake, read William Jennings Bryan who sent the Grange through the roof with prose that sounds positively dialogicala compared to this book!

Teddy Roosevelt could thunder and denounce with the best of them, but he could write a book. Dwight Eisenhower won a war and then had someone ghost an awesome account of that win. If Palin is running for President, we needed more.

We don’t need a philosopher president, but we do need someone who can make our cause appear plausible to the half persuaded.

I want to like Palin. I love many things about her politics, but where oh where oh where are the ideas?

I hope I am wrong.

TOPICS: News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: bobj; book; morebobjbs; palin; pds; reynolds

1 posted on 12/01/2009 8:39:33 AM PST by Bob J
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To: Bob J; Jim Robinson

Spamming the site with this tripe?

2 posted on 12/01/2009 8:46:10 AM PST by P-Marlowe (LPFOKETT GAHCOEEP-w/o*)
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To: Bob J

this book only introduces Mrs. Palin, I’m
quite sure there will be others that cover
her world view and foreign policy, yet to come.

I read it over the last couple of days.
It is simple reading about an American woman
and that is as it should be. The underpinnings
of her beliefs are shown for all to see and for
myself I found it refreshing.

3 posted on 12/01/2009 8:47:26 AM PST by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: Bob J

So, after a few minutes of clicking, I find that the author, John Mark Reynolds, is basically a PhD philospher at an unknown university:

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester.

Thanks, but I can do my own philosophizing...

4 posted on 12/01/2009 8:50:41 AM PST by bigbob
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To: P-Marlowe
It is getting a little... unnerving, isn't it?

5 posted on 12/01/2009 8:51:39 AM PST by KentTrappedInLiberalSeattle (
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To: bigbob

Oh, of course, good ol’ Biola University. Sounds like a virus.

6 posted on 12/01/2009 8:56:30 AM PST by alarm rider (The left always tell you who they fear the most. What are they telling you now?)
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To: bigbob
You mean he didn't go to an Ivy League University?


Hmmm, I thought that was one of the "issues" of the Palinistas, the elitism of her critics because she attended college in Alaska?

Again, Palinistas show their inconsistency.

7 posted on 12/01/2009 9:10:08 AM PST by Bob J
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To: Bob J

ping for later

8 posted on 12/01/2009 9:31:00 AM PST by Ro_Thunder ("Other than ending SLAVERY, FASCISM, NAZISM and COMMUNISM, war has never solved anything")
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To: P-Marlowe

This has been ongoing here lately. Double postings and people not performing searches if their article has already been posted.

9 posted on 12/01/2009 9:33:45 AM PST by Irisshlass
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