On November 24, one day after the release of her latest book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag, I conducted a twenty-minute telephone interview with Governor Sarah Palin.
We’ve all read a lot about Palin over the past two years. Critics have labeled her as everything from a diva to naïve to polarizing to anti-woman. Some have argued that she’s kind, but ditzy. Others have said she’s likable, but amateur. Still others have contended that her heart is in the right place, but she’s just not sharp enough to be America’s Commander in Chief.
What is she like?
Former governor Palin is down-to-earth and astute. There was nothing self-interested or narcissistic in her tone. She was optimistic about possibilities, but realistic about dangers. There was a warmth that shone through when she talked about her family; that same warmth was apparent when she spoke of America’s founding principles. There was an honest frustration in her voice with respect to “policies coming out of Washington, DC that punish the producers and don’t let the job creators do what they do best.” And there was an underlying toughness – a hearty durability – that made her thoughts grounded and stalwart. That toughness leapt forward boldly when it was time to defend how America should “be a light for others who seek to exercise their God-given rights and liberties.”
What did she say?
Palin paid tribute to founding feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who “asked for a level playing field and for some respect for their work ethic and for their character.” She said, “To study what has happened since then – especially in the 60s and 70s when a lot of women decided to hijack the term feminism – they hijacked the idea of women’s rights, and I believe that they started making women feel like they were victims, and that is a disempowerment. That makes women, especially our young women, feel that they are not capable, smart enough, or strong enough to take on all that life has to offer, unless somebody helps them out and does it for them. In this case – with liberals – unless government does it for them.” She asserted, “Yeah, women do, I believe, have to work harder to prove themselves,” adding “It makes us better people and it makes us stronger and it makes success even more worth it.”
Palin briefly addressed the bigger picture behind the lie perpetuated in the media that she, as Mayor, wanted rape victims to pay for their own rape kits: “It was a lie. And the narratives like that which continue in the lamestream media really do a disservice to what my record truly is and what I believe in.” She added that some on the far left “attack personally in order to send their message that they would really rather see me sit down and shut up. And I think they believe that if they keep picking and poking and shooting and throwing the darts and arrows my way, that eventually here I will give up and I’ll sit down. But it’s like my dad always says, you don’t retreat. You reload. And that’s where I am today, again reloading, ready to get out there even on this book tour, get out there speaking about time-tested truths that can put America on the right track, and a lot of that has to do with people being rewarded for their work ethic and their character based on equal opportunity, not government picking winners and losers. And the Left, they don’t like that message, and they’ll do anything they can to stop me. But so far, it hasn’t been working.”
Palin spoke extensively about her record, beginning with her days of local office “taking on the good old boy network in my own town running for city council because I saw that many on our local city council and in our Mayor’s office decided that because they had a title, a political position, they were going to start taking private property rights away and start telling businesses and homeowners what they could or couldn’t do on their own private property.”
She discussed her roles as Mayor, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and especially Governor. “To be a successful governor,” she said, “you have to put obsessive partisanship aside, and you have to be a really good administrator, and you have to have a good team around you, and you have to make prudent decisions based on what is best for the people whom you are serving. To me, the best decisions are all based on exercising this acknowledgment I have that individuals have rights and should be able to exercise those much more powerfully than a state or centralized federal government.” She highlighted such achievements during her governorship as ethics reform, oil and gas development, and “taking on some monopolies, some crony capitalism that unfortunately it was the GOP that was engaged in – so again, taking on the good old boys on that level.”
There was a confidence in her voice when she spoke of her record, a reverence for the teamwork that went into her accomplishments, and a fearlessness with respect to taking on what is powerful and entrenched in the name of doing what’s right.
Palin described her family as “independent, boisterous, and diverse.” She prioritized the significance of “that independence that flows through us,” revealing that “it’s helpful politically because in politics, if you get caught up in a political machine, if I were to just play this game that many in the hierarchy of the GOP Party would want me to play, then that gets in the way of good policy and doing what’s right for the people whom you are serving.” She added that her family is “a good reminder of why it is that I shall remain independent and I shall not play the games that waste a lot of time and become inefficient and really result in why the public gets disenchanted with and disenfranchised from their politicians.”
In response to the fact that some have labeled her “too polarizing,” Palin replied, “I think the polarizing thing is the most perplexing because the positions that I hold, I believe, are quite reflective of what most Americans believe in, and that is the protection of our freedoms and our free market and doing all that we can to remain a superpower.” She questioned why President Obama’s positions aren’t considered polarizing to those same critics, citing Obama’s April comment that “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower” as “pretty polarizing because most Americans do realize why it is that we want to be a superpower, because we can help create peace throughout the world through our strength.” She added, “So, when I talk about time-tested truths, things that work in culture and society to allow us to live peacefully and in freedom, and when I talk about the economic issues that I support that are based on free markets, and when I talk about national security issues that are based on protecting allies and not coddling enemies and not thinking that our enemies and terrorists deserve the legal rights that we have as Americans, then it’s perplexing to me to be considered polarizing when again, I believe those positions I hold are quite common positions held by the rest of America.”
One of Palin’s most passionate responses was to my question of whether it’s possible to change the way Washington works. “I absolutely believe it’s possible and it’s so extremely necessary to change the way Washington does its work,” she said. She continued, “And, you know, I have that background in a city and then a state in promising and then fulfilling that promise to change the status quo. So, certainly with that foundation that I have, that has seen and then proven what works, the same could be applied in Washington, DC. In fact, if any candidate thinks that they’re just going to embrace the status quo – even in terms of hiring the same old staff members and the people who’ve been part of the problem because they’re part of the establishment all these years, hiring those people and bringing them back into a cabinet or bringing them back into these regulatory commissions to actually run the bureaucracy the way we’ve become accustomed to – well, any candidate who thinks that that’s going to get us out of the problems that we’re facing today, then that candidate should not be elected because they don’t have the experience in knowing that you’ve got to shake it up and you’ve got to do things differently.”
What attributes does Palin think a GOP candidate who steps up to the plate in 2012 should have? “Someone who’s willing to take some risks in terms of bringing in people who aren’t the known bureaucrats, but people with private sector experience who know how to run a business, make payroll, balance a budget, and live within your means.” According to Palin, the candidate should also have “that steel spine, thick skin, not worrying about what it is that the adversaries are going say about you” and an understanding that “it is the people who hire you, who elect you, whom you are beholden to.” Palin also spoke about the importance of humility: “You have to have a team around you that you will listen to, and that takes some humility, and not an arrogant, elitist attitude pretending that nobody else’s advice really matters because you’re so doggarned smart you’re going to do it yourself.”
Who does that sound like? You be the judge.
Throughout the interview, I didn’t see any signs of naïve, ditzy, or amateur. I saw knowledgeable, level-headed, and accomplished.
What has left a lasting impression on me from the interview is that Sarah Palin’s words – whether you agree with them or not – carry a realness that’s not common in the political world. Everything seemed entirely unrehearsed, and there was a spontaneity in her responses that reflected a desire to tell me what she actually thinks, not what she thought I wanted to hear. There was something raw about her patriotism, something blunt about her honesty, and something fierce in the seemingly casual way she talked about having taken on “the good old boys.”
My conclusion: To underestimate Governor Palin is to underestimate the ability of that realness, that spontaneity, that rawness, and that bluntness, to resonate with everyday Americans.
And that, my friends, is just plain silly.