Column by Chris Graham
I didn’t expect that the one thing that would stick out the most from my read of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue would be the bit about an unnamed former state legislative director in Alaska, what with all the innuendo about the inner workings of the John McCain presidential campaign, the hack job she did on McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, the breathless retelling of the moment when she asked Joe Biden if she could call him Joe – there was just so much to look forward to.
But no, sitting here thinking about the book, about Palin, the state legislative director stories are the ones that will linger with me.
“He turned out to be a BlackBerry games addict who couldn’t seem to keep his lunch off his tie,” Palin informs us as she gives us a first impression of the guy, who isn’t referred to by name in the book, but turns out to be a man named John Bitney, who turns out as well not to have been as unfamiliar to Palin as she seems to indicate in her first description of him in Going Rogue, because it turns out also that Bitney and Palin were high-school classmates (!), and Bitney was a top advisor on Palin’s 2006 Alaska gubernatorial campaign.
We’re also not told in the book what in the end soured the Palin-Bitney relationship – Bitney has told reporters in Alaska that he left the Palin administration after admitting to an affair with the wife of a friend of Palin, a woman to whom he is now married.
What we get instead from Palin in Rogue is venom.
“During my 2007 budget powwow, the legislative director should have been at the table with us so that there would be no surprises in the state house come veto time,” Palin wrote of a blowup early in her administration over state-budget issues that she attributes as being solely the fault of the unnamed Bitney.
“Occasionally, he would wander in and out, plop down in the chair at the end of the table, nibble cookies, and absently thumb his BlackBerry. Every now and then a tired staffer on a bathroom break would pass behind him, glance down, then mouth over his head, ‘It’s Brick-Breaker.’
“One day Meg and I caught up with him in the hallway to ask about his communication with lawmakers because we were getting mixed messages from city officials regarding their project priorities, and I was ready to announce the budget cuts. Slouching against the wall, he assured us that, yeah, he had everything under control, mission accomplished. The fact that his shirt was buttoned one button off and his shirttail was poking through his open fly didn’t exactly inspire confidence.”
Palin surely doesn’t want us to believe that Bitney was actually “slouching against the wall” with “his shirt buttoned one button off and his shirttail “poking through his open fly.” What she’s doing is engaging in the kind of character assassination in print that she unironically complains about throughout the book being used against her, though in the case of Palin in Going Rogue, throwing people under various passing buses is an act of personal fulfillment, and it marks the entirety of her public career.
Among the people she leaves for dead on the side of the road are the people who recruited and ran her first campaign for Wasilla City Council, her mother-in-law (whom she didn’t endorse for mayor after her second term was up), the Alaska Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, Steve Schmidt, Katie Couric, the TV guy who shot the video of her in front of the turkey-processing plant, even her publisher for sticking her up in a hotel in California to finish her book when she’d rather be back at home in Alaska.
Palin’s world is black and white; to borrow from George W. Bush, either you’re for her, or you’re against her, and as with the former president, if you’re against her, watch out. Unlike Bush, who had the foresight to campaign in 2000 as a compassionate conservative, and whose chops included a record of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats in Texas and then again in his early years in Washington, Palin prefers in all situations to go on the attack, as the choice of book title, Going Rogue, would indicate.
Palin recounts to us when the term first entered the American political lexicon. It was when she publicly questioned the decision of the McCain campaign to divert resources from Michigan to focus on states that its internal polls suggested were much more in play.
Palin stresses throughout Going Rogue how much she values loyalty, but in the carnage that is the Cult of Sarah, it’s clear that the loyalty she values the most is to her and her alone.
Thinking about this book, then, I’m reminded of the scene from a classic episode of “Seinfeld” where George has decided that he needs to tell somebody his deepest, innermost feelings, and shares with Jerry his insights, motivations and the rest.
“So, that’s it. All of my darkest fears, and… everything I’m capable of. That’s me,” George says.
“Yikes. Well, good luck with all that,” Jerry says back, ashen, aghast.
“Where you going? I thought I could count on you for a little compassion,” George wails.
“I think you scared me straight,” Jerry says.
Going Rogue has passed the million mark in sales, but I seriously doubt too many of those buying it will be able to get past the first 50 or so pages, which are such an impenetrable fog that I have to wonder if there wasn’t something intentional as far as enticing readers to retire the book almost entirely unread to the shelf for appearance’s sake going on.
Even the more throaty of Palin fans who somehow slog through are likely to react as Jerry did to the trainwreck that was his friend George.
“I think you scared me straight.”