Next Tuesday, when Sarah Palin's already-bestselling memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life," hits shelves, another much-anticipated look at the Palin phenomenon will also debut: "Going Rouge: Sarah Palin - An American Nightmare" (available exclusively at orbooks.com). The book includes both new and classic essays by the likes of Max Blumenthal, Eve Ensler, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Jessica Valenti, Juan Cole, Jim Hightower, Robert Reich, Naomi Klein and many more.
I interviewed Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, the editors of "Going Rouge," about Palin's place in the American political landscape, her influence on the tenor of Republican politics, and why they did not choose to make Levi Johnston a focal point of their anthology.
MS: Although your book is being released the same day as "Going Rogue" and has a similar cover, it doesn't seem like you intend to trick readers into buying the book when they mean to buy "Going Rogue." What was your aim in compiling this anthology?
Betsy Reed: We want to emphasize that although the cover has an element of satire, the book is not a parody. Our goal was to present a serious appraisal of Sarah Palin's record and an assessment of her role in American politics - and her future in American politics. She is a very well-packaged celebrity at this point, so we felt it was important to show her beneath the gloss.
Richard Kim: "Going Rogue" has already printed 1.5 million copies, and it has been number one on Amazon for weeks. We can assume that it's going to be painting her in the most generous and heroic light, and it's really important to tell the other side of her story, about her record in Alaska as governor, what she did on the campaign trail and what her politics are, and not to fall prey to the Sarah Palin branding machine.
BR: We're seeing this argument take shape where anyone who's critical of Sarah Palin is portrayed as launching unfair personal attacks on her. Our book is not personal at all; it's about who she is politically. There's really nothing about Levi Johnston in the book.
MS: That's refreshing.
RK: He only enters in there once or twice. There's no full-frontal nudity in the book, either.
"Going Rouge" is available starting Nov. 17 at orbooks.com.
MS: I'd like to know how you settled on the title of "Going Rouge," besides the play on words?
BR: Well, we can readily admit the play on words was a large part of the appeal, although we suggest in a cheeky way in our introduction that any similarities are purely coincidental.
But we also argue in our introduction that Sarah Palin represents something interesting and new in Republican politics, in that she is very much presented as a woman - a mother, a hockey mom - and her pedigree as a beauty queen was a very explicit part of her marketing as a vice-presidential candidate. This is highly suspect coming from a party that's been against every major agenda item for the women's movement. The title allows us to comment on that phenomenon: the Republican Party "going rouge."
Why do you think Sarah Palin remains so widely accepted by conservatives as a viable national politician, despite her obvious shortcomings?
RK: A part of that is definitely the narrative she sells; being a mom from Alaska. Also, she also does share the views of 20 percent of the electorate: the far right. And it's clear that they are not actually thinking in this moment of winning national elections. They're not even trying to hold onto a seat in New York's 23rd district, which has been in Republican hands since the 1850s. That was the race where Sarah Palin intervened and hacked out the moderate Republican. So that's a big question that's unknown: Is the Republican Party going to follow Palin into basically suicidal territory in terms of a national election?
BR: I think she does have quite a strong following among a certain cohort of Christian, conservative, white, married women. The Republican party is a mostly male phenomenon, but I think Republicans recognized that they needed to do better with women when they picked her.
RK: Going back to what Betsy said earlier, the narrative that she sends out of being persecuted is actually deeply resonant now with that portion of the Republican Party, which is out of power in the White House, out of power in Congress, and seeing the policies of the Bush years being rolled back. She constantly says, "I'm not being recognized by the national media, so I'm going to go rogue and tell you the story directly." In that way she can bypass Washington and bypass the media world.
BR: It's nothing new - The American right has always felt itself to be aggrieved. They always present themselves as fighting against a liberal elite. During the Bush years, obviously, they controlled everything. But now with Obama, there's a receptive audience for Sarah Palin's line of being the victim of this liberal conspiracy.
MS: That sense of victimhood can make it difficult for the media to cover Sarah Palin at all. If you had to map out a strategy for the progressive media in confronting the phenomenon of Sarah Palin over the next couple of years, what would you include?
RK: The best thing progressives did during the election was stick to record record record; facts facts facts. When you line those up, you see what a disaster she was as governor and what a disaster she would be as vice president.
That should be the strategy going forward. When she posts on Facebook that Obama's going to have "death panels" that execute her Downs Syndrome baby, we have to point to where he actually talks about optional end-of-life consultations. When she talks about how "In God We Trust" has been taken off the dollar coin, implying that it was an Obama plot, progressives have to point out that in fact, this was passed by a Republican Congress and George W. Bush.
So, there's going to be a portion of the electorate that believes whatever she says, but the results of the election and the results of the summer health care debate have shown that if we stick to the facts and the record, she's usually debunked.
MS: So, what kind of impact do you hope the book will have on Palin's probable presidential campaign?
BR: In some ways, Sarah Palin represents very bad news for the Republican Party. So part of us just wants to say, "Go for it!"
RK: But then, look at what she did with Betsy McCaughey's "death panels," which were just a little thing in the New York Post and no one on the national stage was paying attention to it. Then Sarah Palin blasted it on her Facebook page, and for the entire month of August, instead of discussing the public option or single payer or any of the other health care proposals out there, we were stuck fighting that garbage.
BR: So, we're probably not going to see President Palin in 2012. The larger effect we're looking at is that Sarah Palin is warping our political debate.
MS: Criticisms of Sarah Palin always seem to contain this combination of outrage and humor. That's a hard balance to strike, and I'm interested in how you dealt with that balance in compiling the anthology.
RK: Some of the humor in the book just comes from quoting Sarah Palin. She's funny enough just on her own. There's a piece in the book that puts Sarah Palin's own words into verse, in haiku form.
So, some of the writers have a lot of fun with her. She has a sort of comic element, but then there are also terrifying elements to her, like the ignorance that she exposed in her interviews with Katie Couric or with Charlie Gibson.
That balance is represented in the book. The appeal of her youth, her wardrobe, her charm has been used to evade the hard political questions of her record and her knowledge.
MS: Is Sarah Palin a "rogue" phenomenon, or does she represent a trend in the Republican Party?
RK: What we see in Sarah Palin's continued political relevance, even though she holds no office, is that in some ways she's doing what Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey and all these other former Republican politicians are doing - using their status as media figures to push an agenda. They don't have to actually govern, or face the consequences of their actions at the polls. So, what she represents is actually the takeover of the Republican Party by these non-governmental actors - and you can throw Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in there - this cabal of people who are not beholden to any electorate. Those are the people in the driver's seat.
BR: There's not anything inherently wrong with a person who's a media personality being influential in politics. We have that on the left, too. But Paul Krugman makes a good point in his [Nov. 9] column: These people don't have to worry about governing, so they can be as irresponsible as they want in their rhetoric, and could potentially make the country ungovernable for Democrats.
RK: Even Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman and Michele Bachmann have to come home and face their constituency. Sarah Palin doesn't need to do that anymore, and that's one of the things that makes her a great danger in the next few years.
"Going Rouge: Sarah Palin - An American Nightmare" can be purchased at orbooks.com.