An American Life
By Sarah Palin
Harper Luxe Large Print, 2009, 581 pages
Distributed by Thorndike Press
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 17, 2010
Politicians write books to show how they excel as leaders and why they should be recognized as fit to represent the public in government offices, and this is how their books should be evaluated. One thinks of the first President Bush's autobiography in which his most significant prior accomplishment seemed to have been the placement of new doors on the CIA building. If this is the best that the politician can write about himself when he is attempting to persuade us to vote to place him in office, one should be cautious about voting for him.
The same consideration applies if the politicians write fiction or non-fiction that is not autobiographical. It is clear that whatever they write they wrote to get our votes. One thinks of President Kennedy's Profile in Courage, which was clearly composed to impress readers that Kennedy was courageous.
The fact that Sarah Palin admits that her book was written by a ghost-writer does not alter how we evaluate her book. After all, she reviewed what was written and passed on what should be included. Kennedy's book was also ghost-written and so too were many other books by politicians. The issue remains: the politician put the best picture of her or himself forward; does it reflect an intelligent person who is knowledgeable about national and international issues, who is mature and concerned about the interests and future of the general population.
The Palin book is well-written, but does not sound like Mrs. Palin sounds when we hear her speak; she describes herself as a concerned "mom" – the book's blurb touts, as if this was something significant, that she offers a "mom's-eye view of high stakes national politics." However, as others have recognized, she fails to demonstrate her political knowledge and competence. And, very disturbing is her strong religious convictions that appear to be unrealistic and elitist in the sense of "I know what is right and what I know is what all people should do." This is dangerous. There are scholars who are concerned that the United States entered the Iraq War because of President Bush's religious views about what is "right." Whether this understanding of President Bush is true or not, we certainly do not want something like this to happen to us and our children in the future.
It is disturbing also when she or her ghost-writer states that the need to confiscate her children's cell phones during the campaign was "scarier than anything the Obama-Biden camp could throw at us." Equally bothering is her constant attempt to describe herself as "an ordinary woman from a town at the top of the world" at a time when she is being criticized for being out of touch with political realities; she seems to show that she is oblivious even to this criticism. Similar is her naiveté; when the book quotes her as saying that her speech writer "was very generous about letting me add my own words." Also, one wonders whether someone else, man or woman, would make a point that she had to change her baby's diaper as "the last thing I did before heading down to give the biggest speech of my life" at the convention.
Are these the kind of character traits that a wise politician offers those who are deciding whether to vote for her? And are these the traits that provoke our positive response?
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.