Over Thanksgiving, I read Sarah Palin’s new book, America by Heart : Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag. My first thought after finishing it? Wow, that was good. My second thought? If someone gripes about her from now on, I’m going to respond,”Have you read her book?” When the opinionated person says, “No.” I’m going to say back, “Talk to me after you’ve read her book.”
Before getting to the guts of the tome, I would like to address one thing that irritates me: When writing about Sarah Palin, it is de rigueur for friend and foe alike to use one’s criticism (and I mean criticism in the dictionary sense; here is the definition: Criticism is the judgment of the merits and faults of the work or actions of one individual by another. To criticize does not necessarily imply to find fault, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of prejudice or disapproval) as either an endorsement or “hit job” of the person.
Even reading the book implies a certain fan-like behavior, a friend informed me. This notion is offensively absurd, but then, we live in absurd political times.
Here is what I believe about Sarah Palin: She is a political force of nature. She should be taken seriously. She has a tremendous amount of political capital and would be a contender if she chooses to run in 2012.
In addition, Palin has driven the political debate since President Obama has taken office. She, more than any other Republican, has been a philosophical counter-point to Barack Obama, and really, to the establishment Republicans in Washington, D.C.
Her book deserves to be read on all these grounds. And anyone who claims to be an intellectual but refuses to engage intellectually by refusing to read her book deserves to be ignored.
To the book.
You know how your mom told you that in polite company one does not discuss sex, politics and religion, and for good modern measure, race? Evidently, no one had that conversation with Governor Sarah Palin. Her book covers all the unspeakables and takes the issues on in her characteristically direct manor.
The tone of the book is refreshingly open. That is, she addresses many challenging and politically incorrect topics with alacrity. Her opinions will make many people angry, once they summon the gumption to read them. Her opinions will force other politicians to answer difficult questions, should the press have the gumption to ask them.
A sampling of quotes:
Parenting: Page 117: “When it comes to raising good citizens, all ‘lifestyle choices’ are not created equal.” Governor Palin notes this in the context of the Murphy Brown and Dan Quale debacle two decades ago.
Feminism: Page 135: ” In the name of liberating women, modern feminism has wrapped us in a one-size-fits-all strait jacked of political correctness.” And on Page 140: ” …somewhere along the line feminism went from being pro-woman to being effectively anti-woman.”
Abortion: quoting Alice Paul: Page 157: “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.” Mary Vitale calls the book a “Pro-Life Family Story.”
Self-esteem movement: Page 167: “Our basic understanding of self-discipline and our ability to work hard for an often distant reward are formed early, in strong families and communities that don’t confuse hard-earned self-esteem with unearned self-regard.” And on Page 179: “I believe in a humbler, less self-involved America.” And on page 166: “In fact, we may be creating a generation of entitled little whiners.”
Government: Page 75: “A ‘boundless field of power’ — sounds like it could be a description of the current flood of legislation coming out of Washington. What we’re seeing today is the inevitable result of national leaders who have forgotten the fundamental wisdom of the the Tenth Amendment.” And on Page 72: “In practice, I’ve always interpreted the Tenth Amendment to mean that the best government is government that is closest to the people.”
Freedom: Page 12: “For me, this is the essence of freedom: to be a child of God whose God-given rights and responsibilities are respected by her government under the Constitution.”
Slavery: Page 29: “[The Framers] did more than just kick the can down the road. They produced a document that one of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, James Wilson, said succeeded in ‘laying the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country,’ even thought he regretted that ‘the period is more distant than I could wish.”
Hollywood portrayal of the military: Page 42: “What makes this reflexive anti-Americanism hardest to swallow is the fact that it is our troops–these men and women who are being portrayed as unwitting (and witting) agents of greed and evil on the big screen–who make the entertainment industry possible.”
Sarah Palin writes an ardent defense of John McCain and writes passionately about the military. She relates the embarrassment and difficulty of having a child who ended up pregnant as a teen. She tells some personal anecdotes while winding her philosophy about America through the threads.
Most of all, Sarah Palin proclaims her devotion to America and asserts its exceptional place in the world.
In short, America By Heart is the anti-Audacity of Hope.
Far from believing that America must be remade, she believes America must be renewed. She cites philosophers, thinkers, movie makers, politicians and historians. Far from sounding ignorant, she sounds well-read and informed. She lays out her beliefs in a clear and straight-forward manner. Far from being a dithering confused empty suit, she seems centered and sure.
If there was a weakness in the book, it was in the lack of concrete policy solutions, though I’m not sure that was the purpose of her book. At one point, she beautifully laid out the problem of the loss of the nuclear family and how it’s destroying the social fabric of society. She cites a lengthy piece from James Q. Wilson (page 119). Here’s a snippet:
“To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are twenty years old. Only 8 percent of people who do all three will be poor; of those who fail to do them, 79 percent will be poor.”
Then Palin says (page 120):
“Two-parent families do matter when it comes to raising kids to be happy and productive citizens. Does that mean we turn our backs on girls and women who find themselves pregnant with no man in their lives? Of course not. I would be the last person to advocate that.”
Her statement begged the questions: What then, are we to do with this single parenthood epidemic that is a cancer on our society? How do we shore up the family? What is the government’s role?
It would seem, that generally speaking, Sarah Palin believes the government is doing too much and far more than it should–for everyone. She speaks directly to the arrogance of the current crop of political leaders saying (page 179):
“There is narcissism in our leaders in Washington today. There’s a quasi-religious feeling to the message coming from them. They are trying to convince us that not only are they our saviors, but that we are our saviors–not hard work, not accomplishment, just ‘believing in ourselves’ and what we can accomplish together through government. As candidate Obama proclaimed on Super Tuesday 2008, ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, we are the change that we seek.’”
“Everything that is worthwhile comes through effort. There is no free lunch. Anybody who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something–usually something paid for by your tax dollars.”
In the next chapter she tackles morality and religion. She sees freedom as intrinsically linked to the Sacred. One of my favorite lines from the book can be read on page 192. She says, “In other words, tyranny can thrive whether people are good or bad, but preserving freedom takes preserving virtue.” Here’s the rest of the paragraph:
“You can look, but you would have trouble finding an American from the founding generation who didn’t share this belief. This sentiment, so controversial today, was imply taken for granted at the time. The Founders deliberately and self-consciously constructed a government based on the belief that religion was at the root of the personal and public virtues necessary to sustain freedom. And they weren’t just being pragmatic. Despite the identification of many with Enlightened Deism, an eighteenth-century belief that strove to reconcile religion with reason, they all had genuine faith and genuinely believed that following its dictates was for the better, both in this life and the next.”
Sarah Palin believes a moral society is the underpinning of a free society. She disagreed with the JFK Houston speech (which got her in trouble with the Kennedy clan, evidently). She quotes Thomas Jefferson, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” (Page 195) “I love those words,” enthuses Palin.
Most Americans who read America By Heart will find little to object to therein. The Smarty Pants Set™, on the other hand, will despise the book. Sarah Palin takes aim at their cherished premises and counters them one by one.
In addition, Sarah Palin manages to write a highly philosophical book without sounding stridently ideological. Indeed, she says what most Americans believe but don’t say because they have been brow beaten into politically correct silence.
And yes, the themes and ideas espoused in America By Heart feel distinctly Reaganesque. However, unlike Barack Obama who studied tape of Reagan to get the gist of the lingo and mannerisms to appeal to broad audiences so as to deceive them into believing he had centrist ideas, Sarah Palin believes the ideas and sounds and acts…well, she sounds and acts like Sarah Palin. That is to say, Sarah Palin is a wholly unique political character and unlike anyone else in the political world.
Sarah Palin’s book articulates a message that stands in stark contrast to the philosophy driving current governance. The prevailing big-government, anti-American, military-diminishing, non-stop-regulating government isn’t going over well with Americans these days. Are they rejecting it, utterly?
Americans are certainly buying America By Heart. I witnessed this myself in Houston as fans braved the cold drizzle waiting for four hours to obtain Sarah Palin’s signature. Do they buy the message? Those in line sure did.
It’s been a long while since Americans have had such distinctive political and philosophical ideas before them. It will be interesting to see what road they choose.