[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Geoffrey Dunn chose the lies of Sarah Palin as the title of what is certainly the best adversarial political biography yet of this deeply divisive figure because those lies and their role in what she has become are central. The fact that he managed to keep the rate of lies – by my count – down to around three per page, showed remarkable restraint on his part, though. Part of the reason is that he had a larger story to tell. He tells it well. The lies touch upon everything she has done, and he keenly weaves them into the book’s narrative.
Dunn divides the book into a prologue and four parts. The prologue describes the continuity of her falsehoods and their uses, from her beginnings to the present. The four parts, in turn, concentrate on her ascension in Alaska, from Wasilla to Juneau; the 2008 national campaign as John McCain’s running mate in a presidential contest; her return to Alaska until the July 2009 resignation; and her national presence over the past 20 months, as a unique sort of new wave political grifter who combines televangelism, celebrity cult social media presence and radical right-wing hate subtexts in unique ways.
In a recent interview in the San Francisco Chronicle by his long-time friend Gloria Nieto, Dunn describes the book’s odyssey:
When I first envisioned my book–in the fall and winter after the 2008 presidential campaign–I saw it being sort of a boutique political history of Alaska, focusing on Palin and the way in which Alaska politics are isolated from the larger American body politic and how that isolation played into Palin’s favor in securing her nomination.
Remember, at that time, everyone assumed that Palin would go back to Alaska, serve out her term as governor, and probably run for re-election as governor in 2010. That was going to be the end of my book–Palin’s re-election campaign for governor. At some point along the way I realized she wasn’t going to run for re-election. I was receiving lots of signals from people close to her and in the Alaska legislature. She clearly hated being governor after she returned from the presidential campaign. When she quit, I wrote a piece about how this freed her to establish a national platform. And that’s precisely what she did.
So my book changed substantially. It grew into a massive political biography that still examines the dynamic between Alaska and American politics, but which also exposes Palin’s “pathology of deceit,” as I call it, and the dysfunction that follows her wherever she goes–from her first days as mayor in Wasilla through the 2008 presidential campaign to her return as governor to her haphazard “run” for the GOP nomination in 2012.
Dunn’s descriptions of a few key events are the best I’ve read. The picture he paints of the preparations for her speech at the 2008 Republican Convention, and how the McCain campaign staff reacted, is vivid, three-dimensional. Here he describes the point in that speech where the crowd started eating out of her hands:
Palin was working the crowd, pulling everyone from the edges. Whatever nervousness she may have had at the beginning was long gone, her confidence soaring. She was headed toward the basket, headed for a breakaway layup. “Well, I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment,” she declared with dripping sarcasm. “And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some of the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.” She was greeted by a chorus of empathetic boos that extended into waves. She let it play out like a pro. Many in the audience broke out into a chant of “Shame on you!” directed at the media pit and at the networks, and in particular, at PBS commentator Gwen Ifill (one of the few African Americans in the sea of white faces at the Xcel Center). Palin watched over the moment of choreographed mayhem in delighted approval.
Shortly after the convention speech, the McCain camp and Palin were ahead of Barack Obama in the polls. It was the high point of Palin’s political career. Geoffrey Dunn’s absorbing account of the long, bumpy, downward ride for Palin since that September day makes for riveting reading. His description of the rambling end of Palin’s July 3, 2009 resignation announcement aptly brings back the sports metaphor to describe the bizarre farce many of us watched:
Palin concluded with a seemingly endless string of catchphrases and cliches. She mixed sports metaphors a final time and praised herself for having “enough common sense to acknowledge when conditions have drastically changed and we are willing to call an audible and pass the ball when it’s time so the team can win.” It was starting to get painful. Palin was playing both basketball and football at the same time. She struggled for a final, closing cliche. “Take the words of General MacArthur,” she concluded. “‘We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction.’”
Advancing in another direction. That was a perfect way to describe Sarah Palin’s entire political career.
For me, some of the strongest elements of Dunn’s story are his capsule portraits of people whose paths have crossed Palin’s: Wasilla mayor and early Palin mentor, John Stein; Alaska blogger, Jeanne Devon; McCain campaign stalwart Steve Schmidt; and many others.
For Firedoglake readers familiar with the food and fuel crisis on the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers in the winter of 2008-2009, where our readers helped raise thousands of dollars to fly Dennis Zaki to Emmonak to get the word out to CNN and other media, his compellingly sympathetic portrait of Emmonak elder Nick Tucker will touch heartstrings. Dunn’s well disposed and contextual look at Andree McLeod, the Republican who has led the continuing Alaska-based assault against Palin’s ethical shortcomings, may be the most detailed and nuanced written about that dedicated activist.
The Lies of Sarah Palin takes us right up through Palin’s post-Tucson shooting public relations debacle. His description of how her subsequent “blood libel” comment about her “targets” meme awfully wounded and coarsened the national discourse in the wake of the tragedy is quite damning.
The lies just keep getting uglier and uglier.
Dunn’s achievement is to tie together his immense amount of research into a finely wrought work that is fair to a succession of people from all across the political spectrum, all of whom had to deal with, for better or worse, the most intensely dishonest and divisive political personality in recent American history.
Usually for worse.