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The Making of a President: Sarah Palin Style

November 17, 2009

Shelby Foote, author of the historical three-part series The Civil War: A Narrative, once said that any understanding of the United States must first be firmly grounded in a true understanding of the American Civil War.

Much the same thing might be said about the understanding of American politics - and the historical works anyone must read - and re-read - to truly understand the culture of American politics - are the works of political journalist Theodore White.

White is best known for his writings and analysis of American culture and presidential politics - and how the two came together to elect the President of the United States in the years 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972.

The books are titled The Making of a President (1960), The Making of a President (1964), The Making of a President (1968), and The Making of a President (1972). All were literary and financial successes with the 1960 bestseller winning the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

The Making of a President (1960) is a particularly stunning and colorful historical writing that remains to this day the work of record on the presidential election of President John F. Kennedy. White’s work was literary genius, and it shaped political thought in this country for many years.

It is against this backdrop that the public is now getting a glimpse into the 2008 presidential campaign - not through the kinds of literary work put forth by Theodore White - but in tabloid-style autobiographies and book-hawking appearances on daytime television.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has embarked on a national publicity tour to promote her new book: Going Rogue: An American Life. It is a runaway bestseller as people are naturally curious to know what she has to say about the 2008 presidential election.

Amid all the fascination with Governor Palin - her entry into the national political scene has not been an overriding success. She does have a rabid following among conservatives - but her actions since the 2008 campaign (including her resignation as Governor) have many wondering if she has a political future.  Some suggest she may not want one.

Her reasoning for quitting as Governor was flimsy and what lingers is the thought that she made the decision to quit her position in order to take the millions offered for the book deal. Some may argue getting that much money is a good reason to resign - and it makes the most sense as well.

Her initial foray into the book tour (appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show) reminded us that she is after all a "hockey mom." She spent a great deal of time talking about what most "soccer moms" talk about - their kids.

The former Governor had a lot to say about her teenage daughter’s former lover - Levi Johnston - and his decision to model for a pictorial in PlayGirl magazine. She thinks he’s making the wrong decision to cash in on the notoriety of being the estranged father of her 10 month old grandson.

She complained that McCain aides mishandled her candidacy as the vice presidential nominee - although those charges have already been denied by the aides. The book also chastises McCain aides for advising her on what she should eat and how she should dress and for making her pay the $50,000 vetting bill run up during her vice presidential selection process.

Ms. Palin also complained about the content of a press release written by the campaign that announced her teenage daughter’s unexpected pregnancy shortly after she was picked as McCain’s running mate. (Perhaps no one in the campaign had prior experience writing a teenage pregnancy press release).

Still Going Rogue: An American Life will be a big commercial success and it is a certainty that this book will be on more family bookshelves than any volume of Theodore White’s The Making of a President series. In years past no cultural detail was too small for White to analyze as to its significance in the outcome of a presidential election.

Those literal days are long gone, and sadly, the Palin book, along with its media tour, provides us with a contemporary version of White's work - and a look at politics as it is today.