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Sarah from Alaska Is a Palin Counterpoint

Two reporters doubt not that she wants to be president

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Shushannah Walshe (CGS’99, COM’01) and Scott Conroy, authors of the new book Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar, say Palin has a gift for connecting with voters, but is also thin-skinned and sharp-elbowed. Photos by Vernon Doucette

Sarah Palin remains such a polarizing figure that mere mention of her name sparks emotions “ranging from adoration to abhorrence,” say the authors of a new biography on the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee.

In Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar, Shushannah Walshe (CGS’99, COM’01) and Scott Conroy write that supporters see Palin, with her conservative ideals and ability to connect with voters, as “Ronald Reagan in high heels.” Critics see “a telegenic yet intellectually vapid amateur” and think Dan Quayle.

The truth is more complex, say the authors, who covered Palin’s campaign, Walshe as a reporter and producer at Fox News Channel and Conroy as a campaign reporter for CBS News. The two recently visited the Borders bookstore in downtown Boston to talk about their book, which chronicles Palin’s rise to the governorship of Alaska, her campaign as John McCain’s running mate, and the events leading to her resignation.

No matter what you think about her politics, Walshe and Conroy write, anyone who rockets from small-town mayor to “the biggest draw in the Republican party must be doing something right.”

Conroy recalls that during the first half of Palin’s campaign, her staff isolated her from the press. But later, “when she decided to go rogue,” she would frequently chat with reporters, who found her extremely personable, Conroy says. “We always say, when you meet her face-to-face, she’s impossible not to like.”

At the same time, they describe Palin as thin-skinned and sharp-elbowed, demanding loyalty from colleagues and staff but offering none in return, a politician whose instincts range from sound to way off-target. Walshe describes the morning of Palin’s first interview with Katie Couric of CBS News. Instead of doing some last-minute prep with senior aides, Palin worked on a questionnaire from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, her hometown newspaper. “She really felt that she was going to go on Katie Couric and wing it,” Walshe says. The segments, by all accounts, were disastrous.

These days, Palin’s relationship with the press is nothing short of antagonistic, says Walshe. She recalls the reaction when she and Conroy ran into Palin’s young daughter Piper last winter in Juneau. They knew Piper from the campaign trail, and when they saw her on the street in front of the governor’s mansion, they asked her about school and moved on. “About an hour later, I received a voice mail from Palin’s press secretary, who accused us of stalking the governor,” says Walshe. “She said they didn’t appreciate us being in Alaska and added that we were trying to corner Piper at the bus stop for comment. Besides being completely ridiculous — no good journalist with any integrity would ever do that — it did give us a taste of how she governed. She really tried to intimidate us out of Alaska.”

The two were taken aback again last July, when Palin resigned as governor 18 months before the end of her first term. Looking back, says Conroy, they shouldn’t have been surprised: “For Sarah Palin, who was used to speaking in front of crowds of adoring fans — tens of thousands of people wherever she went — for her to return to that small state was really difficult. It became clear she just didn’t want to do this anymore.”

Those fans will likely be out in force when Palin embarks on her book tour. Her memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, is due out today.

“She loves the adulation,” says Conroy. “She loves the crowds. Everywhere she goes, she’ll have people telling her, ‘You’ve got to run for president.’ And that kind of thing is going to connect with her.”

Walshe and Conroy have no doubt that Palin wants to be commander in chief.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to fathom that, quite frankly,” says Conroy. “They just did a poll — 70 percent of the country doesn’t think she’s qualified to be president. Having said that, she’s been underestimated throughout her whole career.”

Cynthia K. Buccini can be reached at cbuccini@bu.edu.

9 Comments

9 Comments on Sarah from Alaska Is a Palin Counterpoint

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2009 at 7:26 am

    Honesty about Palin

    It is nice to read an honest commentary about Sarah Palin. This country has lost sight of the most important and simple fact that makes a good president which is respect for the United States constitution. If Sarah just took her oath of office seriously, then even though she did not graduate with an ivy league degree, she would still be the best president we have had since Teddy Roosevelt. And BTW those of us who attended BU did not graduate with an ivy league degree either so would that make all of us unqualified to be president too? If respect for the constitution is going rogue then we need more rogues……we certainly need fewer liberal elitists who think their education trumps common sense and respect for the constitution.

    Sincerely

    An alumna with common sense

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2009 at 10:58 am

    Challenge one statement...

    The book wrote: “Besides being completely ridiculous — no good journalist with any integrity would ever do that — it did give us a taste of how she governed.”

    Can we take one look at that statement for a second? The problem is that there are many bad journalists without integrity.

    Secondly, maybe put this into context? I find it unlikely you were the only two media talking to Piper. Magnify that by about 30 and then you see why someone might be upset.

  • Kevin on 11.17.2009 at 2:45 pm

    Not exactly

    “Walshe and Conroy write, anyone who rockets from small-town mayor to ‘the biggest draw in the Republican party must be doing something right.’”

    There is a difference between self-made success and inherited popularity. It is very easy to go from unknown to a household name if the Republican presidential candidate picks you out of the shadows. Under Walshe and Conroy’s philosophy, Joe the Plumber is a political genius.

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2009 at 4:21 pm

    re: Honesty about Palin

    If Sarah just took her oath of office seriously….. If she took her responsibility as a public servant seriously, she would not have resigned with the excuse that she could be more effective outside government. — Effective governors are sometimes ineffective presidents. A governor indcating they are frustrated and ineffective in their resignation speech doesn’t stand a chance of being an effective president.

  • Avi on 11.17.2009 at 4:29 pm

    Reaction

    This book actually seems to be a fair account of Palin’s experience during the campaign, which is very refreshing. I like Shushannah Walshe, I think she is a great journalist, but I would be very afraid if I saw two reporters talking to my daughter at school, ESPECIALLY if it were Sarah Palin’s daughter, so I would cut her some slack there.

    As for the person who wrote the ‘Not Exactly’ post, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Sarah Palin wasn’t just plucked out of no where, she had proven herself to be an amazing governor of Alaska. So good in fact, that the campaign chose her! With all do respect the Joe the Plumber analogy is completely ridiculous. Although, I agree Joe the Plumber has absolutely no place in the political arena, I do applaud him because he was the only person during the two years of Obama’s campaign to actually ask him about his policies and ask though tough questions. And as we now know…when you pressure Obama you either get the response of “spread the wealth around” or “censor them” re. Fox News.

  • Ed on 11.17.2009 at 7:22 pm

    Sorry, commenters, no sale

    When I watched the VP debate last year I really wanted to like Palin, but the more she talked, the more she refused to answer the interviewer’s questions, one word kept coming to my mind – vacuous.

    People keep saying she’s smart, but she bounced around to four or five community colleges and graduated without honors. She seems like the second coming of George Bush – intellectually uncurious yet completely convinced of her own wisdom. She’s shrewd and ambitious, but I don’t see any evidence that she’s all that smart. Quite simply, she is the least qualified national candidate of my lifetime.

  • Anonymous on 12.14.2009 at 8:50 am

    “People keep saying she’s smart, but she bounced around to four or five community colleges and graduated without honors.”

    Too bad No Sale thinks this way and fails to appreciate that Einstein was considered a dull student, Warren Buffet did not go to college and Bill gates dropped out. If you think for a moment that were you went to college or whether you graduate with honors is an indication of your being brilliant you are sadly mistaken……their are many liberal art majors who graduate with honors working in sales jobs across this country.

    This woman has managed to stay in the public eye because of her quit wit and because she commands our attention which is more than can be said for anyone who has written or said anything derogatory about her. Despite the the attempts of her detractors to discredit her since she was thrown into the public forum as McCain running mate she manages to maintain her composure and style.

    It is still unclear what this woman’s role will be in the future of Republican party but one thing is for sure…..she will have a role. Her appreciation for the constitution of the United States which does not take an ivy league degree to read or understand is more than most modern liberal politicians with Harvard degrees who took an oath of office to uphold and defend can be counted on to do. From Woodrow Wilson, to FDR, to Jonhson the liberals have repeatedly managed to usurp the constitution in their efforts to control the people.

    Too bad only Wilson was able to see the err of his ways when just three years after signing the Federal Reserve Act Wilson denounced the Federal Reserve System:

    “I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world, no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”

    People like Sarah Palin offer us fresh ideas and we desperately need fresh ideas.

    • Cait on 11.15.2011 at 10:47 am

      Did you even bother to read that quote by Wilson? It describes, precisely, the problem we have right now: the entire country in the hands of the few, the dominant. Corporations and the wealthiest.

      I don’t care if you have an Ivy league degree. G W Bush did, and he was not a good president. I do care if you are able to hold a conversation and prove yourself informed, accurate, and sensible. Palin has been unable to do that with any measure of consistency. Wit and charm definitely belong on camera. They do not a political leader make. No one ought to get by on charisma alone.

      It’s one thing to disagree with someone else’s ideology. It’s another to insist that someone who repeatedly says what you want to hear is intelligent and fresh. Nothing she’s said is fresh, deliberately. Politicians on both sides of the camp have their talking points and they stick to it. She did not say anything I haven’t heard before, unless it was an abuse to the English language.

      Pointing out that some geniuses didn’t graduate college doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t graduate college is a genius.

      The points you’ve made in her favor are as follows: witty, commands attention, composed, stylish. Great. She can have a job as an entertainer. Not a politico.

      Don’t confuse her interest in guns for a dedication to the constitution. There are more amendments than #2, including the first one, which protects the same press she denounces with regularity, ever since they started pointing out her numerous gaffes and holding her accountable for speaking without thinking or doing research.

      This country needs substance and a basis in actual reality, not dogma, not ideology, not talking points.

  • Anonymous on 12.18.2009 at 5:16 pm

    are you kidding?

    you say liberals do not follow the constitution? were you alive for W’s term?

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