Sarah Palin is noteworthy in American public life for many things: her lightning-rod reputation in the press, her wink and gravity-defying hair and wardrobe, her governance of the petrostate Alaska, her folksy half-Canadian patois, her likeness to the comedian Tina Fey, her unmatched ability to rally the neoconservative and cultural-conservative base.
She is not noteworthy for her breadth or depth of political knowledge -- nor should she be for her interest in it, as her score-settling-obsessed memoir Going Rogue proves once and for all. Indeed, I read the painfully unserious -- morally and politically -- memoir in search of some, any, foreign policy, to understand better the politician who nearly was a heartbeat away from the presidency and seems sure to run for executive office again.
My theory, now resoundingly disproven, went something like this. During the campaign, Palin suffered a number of humiliations, her lack of basic knowledge about foreign affairs chief among them. Most famously, during her agonizing interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, she flubbed a question about the six-year-old Bush Doctrine of military preemption and later implied her knowledge of international affairs comes from Alaska's geographic proximity to Russia.
Since the campaign and her resignation from the governorship, Palin has engaged in just one public appearance and made just a handful of public statements. Nevertheless, these have at least evinced policy coherence entirely missing during the campaign. In a July opinion piece for the Washington Post, she provided a standard conservative argument against a cap-and-trade approach to combating climate change. In a speech in Hong Kong in September, she provided boilerplate libertarian-conservative talking points on the Federal Reserve and Asia policy. Perhaps, I thought, we were witnessing a rare political adolescence, an ideologically incoherent candidate going through the policy furnace and emerging forged. Perhaps Randy Scheunemann, the former foreign-policy advisor to John McCain, and others still working with Palin had helped her crystallize her world view. Perhaps there might be evidence of a nascent Palin Doctrine in Going Rogue.
Perhaps I need to lay off the sauce. The book, as one might have predicted, provides little evidence of any awareness of foreign policy, let alone serious thought about the world and America's place in it. Take, for instance, Palin's description of her first meeting with McCain, when he hoisted her onto his ticket and foisted her onto the unsuspecting world. Senior advisor Steve Schmidt -- cast as one of the many villains conspiring to keep Palin down throughout the book -- spends the initial vetting session grilling the governor on the subjects that might pose the greatest liabilities to the then-losing ticket. The McCain folks mention her daughter's pregnancy. They ask about her firing of her brother-in-law. And Schmidt starts in on international affairs.
"[He] wanted to know whether I understood the origin of the conflict [in Iraq], the history of the Middle East, and how thirteenth- and fourteenth-century differences had evolved into today's murderous rivalry," Palin writes. She tells us she did -- but she shows us she did not, defensively pushing back on Schmidt for being undercutting and cranky (she later criticizes his diet and describes him, delightfully, as slumping like a "pile of laundry"). She provides no description of any answers she gave to his questions, which I doubt were always so historical in nature.