Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin
Book Review by Bob Kellemen
*Author: Sarah Palin (with Lynn Vincent)
*Category: Autobiography, Politics
*ISBN and Length: 978-0061997877, 413 Pages
Reviewed By: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC, Author of Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, Beyond the Suffering, Sacred Friendships, and God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. Find all of Bob’s book reviews, blogs, books, and free resources at www.rpmministries.org.
Recommended: Going Rogue offers Sarah Palin’s fast-paced, well-written, personal account of her American life from her relative obscurity in Alaska to her meteoric rise as John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate.
Review: Living the American Dream
Reviewing Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue: An American Life must be an American pastime. Within three weeks of publication, Amazon.Com already lists 536 reviews. No surprise, given that as of December 6, 2009, it remains Amazon’s number one best seller, and perhaps the most talked about autobiography since Bill Clinton’s mammoth My Life.
What Others Are Saying
I find many of the reviews, along with the comments and criticisms of the “liberal pundits,” to be almost laughable. Many complain that Going Rogue is “self-serving.” Such a statement is not a book review; it’s a judgment of the motives of the heart. Ironic, isn’t it, that those who claim Sarah Palin is a “judgmental Evangelical” turn around and judge her motives?
Others grumble that Going Rogue is “self-focused” or overly “self-referential.” Pardon me for being a tad slangish, but “Duh!” “Hello!” It is, after all, an autobiography. Read Bill Clinton’s My Life (all 957 pages) and guess what, it’s self-referential. The same is true of Hillary Clinton’s Living History and of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. Yes, by definition, an autobiography offers an individual’s personal slant on their life, perspective, beliefs, and impact.
The Foreshadowing: Living the American Dream
Being a political biography and autobiography “junkie,” I didn’t know what to expect when my copy of Going Rogue arrived. I’ve read autobiographies that creep along at a terminally slow pace. Not so, Going Rogue. Palin’s writing is fast-paced and captivating. (Yes, she has a collaborator, Lynn Vincent, which is common-place in such political autobiographies. However, the fact that Sarah Palin is a college-educated journalism major also likely has much to do with how well-written her autobiography is.)
Palin begins by foreshadowing the rest of the book.
She’s zig-zagging from booth to booth at the 2008 Alaskan state-fair, her four-month-old son, Trig, in her arms, Piper, her seven-year-old daughter her constant companion. Her phone rings and it’s John McCain asking if she “wanted to help him change history.”
From state fair to world politics. From babe-in-arms to fighting for the life of the unborn. From the obscurity of the Alaskan outback to the notoriety of vice-presidential candidate. Hers is “an American life”—where an individual can rise from a working-class home and work her way from city council, to major’s office, to governor of the largest state, to a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the land.
Her American Life
From there, Palin transports her readers back in time to February 11, 1964, the day she was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. Within three months, her family is moving to the remote frontier town of Skagway, Alaska.
Palin tells the revealing story of her first attempt to fly. Four-years-old, she leaps off the wooden plank sidewalk. Her description is metaphoric for her life.
“I got to thinking: I had seen eagles and dragonflies and ptarmigan fly, but I had never seen a person fly. That didn’t make any sense to me. Hadn’t anyone ever tried it before? Why couldn’t someone just propel herself up into the air and get it done? I stopped and looked up at the summer sky, then down at the dirt road below. Then I simply jumped. I didn’t care who might see me. I wanted to fly more than I worried about what I looked like. My knees took most of the impact, and I scraped them both. ‘Well, that didn’t work,’ I thought. So I got up, dusted myself off, and kept walking.”
That’s the story of Sarah Palin’s life in just over 100 words. Like her or hate her, agree with her or disagree vehemently, Sarah Palin is a flyer. A risk-taker. She’s resilient. As Yukon Cornelius would say, “She’s like a Bumble. Bumbles bounce.”
I enjoyed her first fifty pages perhaps most of all. Her readers learn not only of her upbringing, but of her ancestry, back several generations to well-educated, middle-class, hard-working Americans. We also learn of her husband, Todd’s, background and Yupik Eskimo ancestry. Additionally, we learn of her athletic accomplishments, her working her way through college, her childhood and young adulthood friends, and of her meeting and marrying Todd.
Why the Feminist Hatred?
Palin not only traces her early years, but also outlines her political rise: from city council, to major, to governor, to vice-presidential candidate. Reading these pages, I couldn’t help but ponder, “Why the feminist hatred?”
Let’s be honest. If her political and religious views were liberal, then her back story would be the darling of the feminist world. Born without any silver spoon. Not making it in life and politics because of the help of a well-connected father, or on the coattails of a politically-powerful husband. Working her own way through college. Raising a family and becoming a working mother. Getting involved in local causes. Fighting the old-boys’ network to be elected to the city council, to be elected mayor, and then governor. An athlete. A beautiful woman who never used her physical beauty to gain political clout.
I mean, what’s not to like about her radical womanhood?
No doubt, it’s her conservative values that prompt the feminist hatred.
Reading about Palin’s rise within Alaskan politics was enjoyable reading. However, once she made the transition to the national scene, I cringed as I turned every page. Not because of poor writing, but because of the documentation of the constant attacks—attacks on her family, on her intellect, on her views and values.
I’m no Sarah Palin apologists. I don’t agree with all her views—whether religious or political. I’m not even claiming she was the most qualified vice-presidential candidate in American history (she certainly was not the least qualified and she had more political and executive experience than many presidential candidates).
It’s just the sheer unfairness of the attacks. Consider just one small, almost ancillary example: her college education. She was mocked by the media because it took her five years to graduate from college. That’s because she worked her way through college and had to take time off to earn enough money to pay her tuition. Sounds rather honorable.
Others mock the schools she attended and the degree she earned. True, she did not attend an elite, Ivy League, Eastern university. Then again, neither did arguably one of America’s most successful Presidents, Ronald Reagan (Eureka College). Perhaps most ironic, those complaining the most about her college education had the identical degree: a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Of course, that’s pretty trite stuff compared to the way Palin was savaged as a hick, an anti-intellectual, a religious extremist, dangerous, totally unqualified and unfit, etc., etc., etc.
Yes, it was painful to re-live those excruciating months of national “notoriety.”
Then again, it was instructive finally to hear “the rest of the story.” Sure, as an autobiography, you read Sarah Palin’s personal slant and biased perspective. At least her side of the story is finally told.
What About Christ?
Many may be surprised where I do find fault with Going Rouge.
Where is Christ in Going Rogue?
I’m not questioning Sarah Palin’s personal Christian faith in Christ. Nor am I questioning her religious values. Neither am I denigrating her Christian lifestyle. She prays. She depends upon God. She attends church. She loves her husband and family. She lives out her pro-life beliefs. Etc., etc., etc.
I also realize that Going Rogue is primarily a political autobiography, not a religious one. I understand that Palin’s purpose was not to make converts. Still, Sarah Palin is not afraid, throughout Going Rogue, to speak her mind and to share her heart. In fact, she’s not afraid to talk about her relationship to God.
All that said, I ask again, “Where is Christ in Going Rogue?”
My antennae first went up when I read Palin’s two explicit descriptions of what Evangelicals might call “conversion.” The first, on page 22, describes her personal conversion.
“I made the conscious decision that summer to put my life in my Creator’s hands and trust Him as I sought my life’s path.”
The second, on the last page of her book (page 413), involves what some might describe as an “altar call.”
“And I do know there is a God. My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over . . . then see what He will do and how He will get you through. Test Him on this. You’ll see there’s no such thing as coincidence. I’m thankful for His majestic creation called Alaska, which has given me my home, and for His touch on America, which has given us all so many opportunities. By His grace, an American life is an extraordinary life.”
Christ is missing.
Sin is missing. Confession of guilt before a holy God is missing. Salvation is missing.
My antennae alerted, it then dawned on me that I didn’t remember hearing any Christian salvation concepts anywhere in Going Rogue. Perhaps my memory was bad, especially since I wasn’t consciously looking for these concepts in a political autobiography.
So I performed an Amazon “Search Inside” the book.
How many times in her 413 pages does Sarah Palin mention Christ? Zero.
Sin? Twice. However, both are said sarcastically about journalistic sins of omission. So, sin? Zero.
Grace? A dozen times. However, not once in the context, or with the meaning of, “saving grace.” So, saving grace? Zero.
Evangelical? Twice. Once about her mother being invited to an Evangelical church, and once about Sarah being called a “book-burning Evangelical extremist.”
Lord? Eleven times. Several in Old Testament quotes. Several in prayers, such as “Dear Lord.” Several in slang, such as, “Dear lord, you call that a good interview?” Never in the Evangelical sense of Christ as Lord.
Church? Eleven times.
God? Forty-two times.
If Palin had never shared her conversion experience (page 22), or never broached the topic of encouraging her readers to do what she did many years ago (page 413), then I would have been a little less concerned. I could say, “It’s a political memoir, that’s why Christ is missing.”
However, having addressed the topic, plus having mentioned God 42 times, and then leaving Christ, sin, and salvation totally out of all 413 pages… I have to ask, “Where is Christ in Going Rogue?” “Why was Christ omitted from Going Rogue?”
What to make of this? Again, I’m not questioning Sarah Palin’s Christian faith or Christian life.
However, I am raising the important question of how she chose to describe her conversion and her Christian faith in her autobiography, where on so many other personal issues she’s so unafraid to speak her mind boldly.
Honestly, it’s scary. Scary because it’s illustrative of our post-modern conception of religious faith.
It’s religion lite. It’s conversion without Christ. It’s salvation without the cross. It’s redemption without sin and guilt.
It’s “AA Faith”: putting our hands in the hands of an anonymous, generic “Higher Power.”
If the “Religious Right” is behind Sarah Palin, it had better not be because of her depiction of salvation from sin by grace through faith in Christ alone. At least not on the basis of 413 pages of autobiographical narrative where she mentions Christ zero times, where she never once mentions sin and salvation from sin.
Yes, unfortunately, it is a typical American life. We pray to God in the hard times. We mention God. But we eschew explicit dependence upon Christ as our only Savior from sin by grace through faith.
A Political Autobiography
As a political autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life is an excellent read. If you want Sarah Palin’s defense of Sarah Palin’s political life (which is what every political autobiography offers), and you want it in a tell-all, fast-paced, well-crafted book, then do what 2.5 million people have done already—buy Going Rogue.
However, if you want a personal autobiography (of someone who claims to be a spokesperson for the Evangelical Right) that at least provides a snippet of content about conversion to Christ from sin by faith—then Going Rogue will disappoint. Going Rogue, while it is a defense of Sarah Palin’s life and politics, is not a defense of Christ’s saving life, death, burial, and resurrection for our sin. Which, in my conviction, is not only America’s only hope, but the only hope of the world.