America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag ReviewFeb 23
Originally Published on 02/13/2011 on cxPulp.com. Read and comment on this article here!
Reviewer: Craig Reade
Quick Rating: Short and eloquent, but lacks punch.
Sarah Palin explains her concept of Commonsense Constitutional Conservatism and her love of country.
Author: Sarah Palin
Publication Date: November 23rd, 2010
If you read Sarah Palin’s last book – Going Rogue, you will notice right off the bat that this book has a slightly different focus. Going Rogue was more of a memoir – outlining her life and experiences – everything that lead up to and culminated in the 2008 campaign with Senator John McCain. America by Heart, on the other hand, shifts focus and talks more about political philosophy.
In my experience, there are three basic approaches to political philosophy books. There is the “low politics” of Ann Coulter and Al Franken – with books like How To Talk to A Liberal (If You Must) and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. This sort of political commentary is largely based on negativity directed at political opponents. These books are rarely factual, and generally appeal to the lowest common denominator. Like sleazy porn, they simply go for the cheap appeal by painting the opposition in the worst possible light, with little regard for accuracy and the truth. Thankfully, America by Heart does not fall into this category.
The second kind is political philosophy from the perspective of the intellectual – the Constitutional scholar attempting to prove that the Founding Fathers had a certain system in mind, and in a scholarly manner explore our current system, explain how we got from there to here (citing legislation and court cases), and fundamentally break down where we are and where we are going. This is the kind of thing you see in Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. America by Heart doesn’t fall into this category either.
Sarah Palin’s latest book falls into the third category – political philosophy on a basic, big-picture basis. America by Heart sets out to explain Palin’s core political ideology. On that note, it does a tremendous job. Palin clearly articulates the core values that has made her such a hit with the Tea Party movement, and effectively describes what motivates that part of the population.
I’ve read some pretty nasty reviews of this book – almost all of them were pretty well word-for-word repeats of the hideous and vacuous criticism she has received since she came on the national stage. Very few of them talked at all about what she had to say, and simply bashed her for “name-dropping Reagan” or worse still – slamming her for using a ghostwriter. I have no idea if there was a ghostwriter on this or not – but there probably was. The most interesting thing about that criticism is that it is so obviously politically motivated that those reviewers should be completely and totally discredited. Politicians using ghostwriters is hardly a new thing. Both Clintons were famous for using ghostwriters – as was our current President Barack Obama, who used a ghostwriter for both of his memoirs. Even Conservative godfather Barry Goldwater used a ghostwriter on his famed Conscience of a Conservative. It would not surprise me in the least if Sarah Palin used a ghostwriter for this book – it’s so common in politics that it should surprise no one. I just find it laughable that the same critics who lavished praise on Dreams From My Father would have the temerity to criticize Palin for using a ghostwriter.
Is it wrong to use a ghostwriter? From my perspective, not really. Not for something like this anyway. Presidents and other politicians have been using paid speechwriters for decades – this isn’t any different from that. The thing about a ghostwritten book like this is: I have never seen a politician have their work received poorly, and then publically blame the ghostwriter. No matter how much of the book the ghostwriter is responsible for, the person whose name is on the cover had better have been extremely specific about what the book contains, how it is said, and ultimately should know the work inside out before it hits the stands, because good or bad, they are ultimately responsible for its contents.
The approach to this book was pretty straightforward – in each chapter, Palin seeks to not only explain her political philosophy, but also explain how love of country is at the heart of what she believes to be right. She covers the gamut – everything from the Constitution to why she supports the military, and the importance of family and faith in the health of our country.
One chapter stands out in the book as the most poignant – her ideas of the role of women in the Tea Party movement, and her general impressions of feminism. It might be a surprise to “traditional” feminists – but she definitely considers herself a feminist, despite the odd idea that has cropped up in the last couple decades that you can’t be a feminist if you don’t agree with abortion or don’t consider yourself a liberal. This is a topic she is uniquely qualified to comment on, and I found this chapter to be the most interesting in the entire book.
Another thing I liked was her approach to faith. She did one thing in this book that a lot of conservative commentator seem to get wrong. She does spend some time talking about the ongoing freedom of/from religion debate, and repeats the oft quoted comments from the Founding Fathers that faith is an integral part of the success of this nation – but she takes the extra step of explaining why. The morality of faith is the reason for this position, and she acknowledges that it isn’t religion that is a requirement – it is a fundamental morality an individual can have without the trappings of religion. On this point she hit the nail on the head – and makes a point that those of us who have been screaming about the dominance of the Christian Right in the GOP have been trying to make for years.
There are a lot of quotes in this book – a lot. This was expected: it was part of the marketing of this book, and she uses most of the quotes to effectively explain her political position. And she quotes everyone – from Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. She even quotes a range of unexpected individuals, from Dash (The Incredibles) to Calvin Coolidge. She goes a little overboard with the quoting, but in some respects it works for this book. To often these days, people have no idea what some of these historical figures (Dash being the exception) actually said, and hearing a position explained in a historical perspective can be valuable.
Unfortunately, America by Heart preaches to the choir. If you already agree with Palin, you are going to enjoy this book. If you are curious about what she believes, you will find it informative. But as far as making a case for an ideology, it utterly fails. She comes close a few times – but rarely does she ever step beyond “This is what I believe and here is a quote by a historical figure that makes this point.” The book is largely positive though – and while she invokes President Obama many times, it is never will malicious intent. She just didn’t go far enough in making her case. She explains it – but doesn’t give much incentive for you to change your mind and agree with her.
Rather than parroting the extremist stance that the Democrats “hate America and are trying to destroy it,” she starts with the more likely idea that they do love this country, but have a different vision for it. She expresses a love of American Exceptionalism, but rightly points out that those on the left don’t deny it because they hate the country – rather, they feel that this position is jingoistic and believe we should be more outwardly focused. Naturally she disagrees with this position, but she paints the opposition correctly – which was kind of refreshing in this political environment. She also talks about the Republican establishment in a way that made her something of a party-hero well before she came to the national stage. She challenges the Republican establishment, and rightly points out that while the Democrat Party is moving towards socialism at 100 miles per hour, the Republican party is going the same direction, only slower. She spends time on the idea that both parties are virtually the same, and does talk about how the current Democrat party has morphed over the last several decades from the philosophies of the great Democrat Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy.
I have to seriously gripe about the length of this book. Short books are fine – and this really didn’t need to be much longer to accomplish what she was going for. The trouble is, the publisher packaged this thing greedily. It’s barely 5.5” by 8.5” – a small hardcover by any standard, with only 304 pages (which includes an introduction, afterwards, and acknowledgements). Each page has ridiculously huge margins and line spacing, and the indentation is even bigger for the many quotes. All this for a $25.99 cover price. Bottom line – this book is a rip-off for the price.
If you are on the fence about Sarah Palin (though who really is), this might help you understand her a little better. I strongly recommend this book to anyone with an open mind who honestly wants to know what those in the “Tea Party” believe – instead of insisting that they are a bunch of redneck racist extremists, and stopping there. If you are looking to be convinced – this isn’t going to do the job. She explains the positions extremely well, but she doesn’t do such a good job championing them. Either way, this is an extremely easy read – it uses common language and was short enough that I could read it in a single sitting, so it isn’t a huge time investment. I admit that this is something few beyond her supporters will appreciate and enjoy. You know which camp you belong to – so that should pretty well determine whether or not you will enjoy this book.