‘Sarah From Alaska’ Review

"Sarah From Alaska" by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe.

"Sarah From Alaska" by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe.

There are only so many hours in the day, and we want to help you. So here’s the first in an occasional series rounding up what you need to know about big politics books you want to read, if only you could find the time.

In between election returns, we read “Sarah From Alaska” by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, two reporters who covered last year’s presidential race. It’s out now from PublicAffairs Books (with the teasing subtitle, “The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar”). We found enough in it to sustain a week of cocktail conversations.

Here are the highlights:

— Getting the news from Fox: Sarah Palin learned from Fox News that she and John McCain wouldn’t win last year’s presidential election. When she heard anchor Brit Hume announce that Barack Obama had won Ohio, “Palin swallowed a mouthful of air. ‘Oh, well, that’s it,’ she said.”

— No concession on the concession: Palin wanted to give a concession speech, but that was nixed by McCain and his aides. It had been written by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, and would have had her say, “when a black citizen prepares to fill the office of Washington and Lincoln, that is a shining moment in our history that can be lost on no one.” And Palin would have offered her own lavish praise for Obama and his “beautiful family,” McCain and the “honor of a lifetime” that he had given her, and a shout-out to a boy with Down syndrome who she had met on the campaign trail. McCain and his staff were adamantly opposed, though the authors offer no real explanation beyond the general friction between the McCain and Palin camps by the end of the campaign.

— The awkward goodbye with McCain: McCain and Palin parted ways that night after she saw him getting into a Chevy Suburban outside the Arizona hotel where the campaign had gathered on election night. The conversation went like this: “‘John? Is that you?’ Palin asked. Cindy [McCain] was already in the car, and the senator had just given a final hug to his press secretary and personal aide, Brooke Buchanan. He spun around. ‘Oh, hey. How are you, Sarah?’ ‘Are you leaving?’ ‘Yup, we’re out of here.’ Palin paused. ‘Okay, well, good night.’ ‘Yes, good night. We’re headed back to the house.’ The now former running mates exchanged final pat-on-the-back hugs and a muffled thank you or two.”

– The really awkward part: After the McCains had left, Palin wanted to take pictures with her family on the hotel ballroom stage, though a lot of TV crews were still filming. McCain staffers got wind of it and freaked out, thinking Palin was going to give her concession speech after all. After a round of frantic telephone calls, instructions filtered down from McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt to turn the lights down. Palin stayed posing on the stage anyway, prompting senior McCain staffer Carla Eudy to tell Palin aide Jason Recher: “You never had control of her. Get control of her! Get her ass off stage!” Recher’s response? “The campaign ended tonight, and so did you.”

– A polar picture: A McCain aide emailed colleagues a photo of a stuffed polar bear -– a coded message to let the McCain camp know he had arrived in Anchorage to pick up the governor and bring her to Arizona to meet McCain at his ranch.

–Telling the kids: Palin couldn’t bring herself to tell her children she had accepted McCain’s offer to be his running mate. “The governor decided not to deliver the life-changing news herself. Instead, she asked Steve Schmidt to tell her children that their worlds were about to be turned upside down.” There’s no explanation for why this happened – but Conroy and Walshe do point out that the timeline means the children weren’t asked for their permission, as Palin suggested during the campaign.

–Coaching with flash cards: The McCain camp used flash cards to get Palin up to speed. “The candidate was assumed to possess a rather minimal knowledge base. For instance, one card noted that the current prime minister of the United Kingdom was Gordon Brown.”

– Two telling comments: “I just don’t want to go back to Alaska,” Palin said during an argument over whether she could bring up Obama’s controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In an email, she referred to the “VP campaign,” which Walshe and Conroy write “seemed at odds with the unified team that theoretically made up the McCain/Palin ticket.”

– Academics aside: Don’t look to this book for insight on Palin’s college days at four schools. But the authors offer lots of details on her basketball skills and husband Todd Palin’s Iron Dog racing, as well as some observations on her 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Want to know just how small Alaska is? Palin’s high school team in her senior year got to the eight-team state tournament and beat the favorites in the first round, because Stephanie Begich, sister of the state’s new Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, missed a critical free throw.

— Quick trip through Troopergate: A lengthy description of the Alaska capital begins: “No roads lead to Juneau.” But the writers don’t add much to the stories about Troopergate, John Bitney, and Irl Stambaugh that captivated so many, however briefly, last year.

–The wardrobe malfunction: The dish on the $150,000 Palin family wardrobe isn’t particularly satisfying. Campaign aide Nicolle Wallace was charged with getting the clothes. Lisa Kline, the New York stylist hired to help, “felt there was an understanding that excessive cost was not a concern.” And Palin “was one of the few people in the room who expressed concern over the exorbitant expense of some of the clothes.”

— A growing preoccupation with bloggers: There’s not a lot about why Palin resigned this past summer as Alaska governor after less than a full term, except that it had something to do with “the extent to which she had allowed her critics in Alaska to get to her. The woman who had steadfastly faced down powerful oil companies two years earlier had now become preoccupied with bloggers.”

– Palin’s father says of his daughter: “Oh yeah… You know, this is like Obama. He didn’t know what he was doing, but if you surround yourself with the right people, she would definitely surround herself with the right people.”

Louise Radnofsky
The Wall Street Journal

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