Sarah Palin's new best-seller reveals that she's still stuck on 2008.
This is Palin's game: She wants the lamestream media to make fun of her clip file. She remembers that during a family trip, "all we had for entertainment was each other and a pile of Reader's Digests," a sparkly wink at Ronald Reagan and the way the press derided his intelligence over his love for that magazine.
But did Reagan ever seem to be trying too hard? More relevant to her political hopes, does Barack Obama? Palin's publishing strategy mirrors Obama's, after all. He followed a memoir with a travelogue-cum-policy book; she's doing the same thing. The woman who rocked the Xcel Center, deriding Obama by saying "the American presidency is not a journey of personal discovery," is well into her second year of a journey—and journal—of personal discovery, free of responsibility, with lots of time to collect insights that other people can use.
By the end of the book, those insights work the way a John Cage composition works: You have to hear what isn't there. The few passages in which Palin expresses sympathy with Obama concern big problems that cannot be disposed of by quoting Whittaker Chambers. In discussing the BP spill—one of the few actual news events of the past year mentioned here—Palin homes in on the press conference in which Obama said his daughter had asked him, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"*
"Who among us hasn't had the experience of a simple question from an innocent child bringing our ego crashing back to earth?" writes Palin. "Of course Malia's daddy hadn't 'plugged the hole'—because doing so was beyond his capability, even as the most powerful man in the world."
At the time the spill was occurring—Obama's press conference was in May—Palin didn't say much more than this. In a famously awkward interview with Bill O'Reilly, she responded to a specific question about what the country needed to do by saying "we need to make sure that all technology is being thrown at this problem." Pressed by O'Reilly, she complained: "We haven't had the assurance by the president that that has been his top priority. Instead, what his top priority is, Bill, is cap and tax."
Basically, she had nothing. She knew what she didn't like about Obama, she knew what other people didn't like, and she knew her principles, but the details of what government should do—well, that was tricky. Next question? Reading this book, which has a first run of 1 million copies, it's clear that since the wonderful experience of becoming a celebrity and the traumatic experience of losing to Obama/Biden, she hasn't had much to say. She will have plenty of time to say it.
Corrections, Nov. 24, 2010: The original version of this article referred to Todd Palin's participation in the Iditarod sled dog race. He was a champion snowmobile racer. The error was introduced in editing. (Return to the corrected sentence.) The article also described Malia Obama as President Obama's youngest daughter. Malia is older than Sasha. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Sarah Palin by John Moore/Getty Images.