Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Mark Joseph
Publisher: Bully Pulpit Books
Author: Mark Joseph
Publisher: Bully Pulpit Books
In late June 2010, as Sarah Palin was riding the wave of popularity surrounding her then recently published autobiography, her gig as a commentator for FOX News Channel, and her burgeoning enshrinement as a tea party darling, she delivered a speech at California State University. The local Fox T.V. affiliate covered the speech – and more. Unbeknownst to a group of pool reporters who were talking among themselves just after the speech, their mocking commentary was picked up live by a hot microphone near the podium.
“Oh my God, I feel like I just got off a roller coaster, going round and round and up and down,” one journalist was overheard saying. “S—t flying out everywhere.”
That anecdote doesn’t make an appearance in Wild Card: The Promise and Peril of Sarah Palin, by Mark Joseph, but its central metaphor (snarkiness aside) aptly summarizes not only that afternoon’s appearance but her tumultuous career as a national newsmaker. The Sarah Palin phenomenon is a roller coaster ride, providing extreme highs for her zealous followers, stomach-churning lows for her numerous detractors, tortuous twists and turns in the English language and logic, loop-the-loops in conventional political thinking, and breakneck turns in the polls.
And, as with roller coasters, some people absolutely love Palin and hope to hitch a ride all the way to the White House, while others get nauseated just watching such rapid, dangerous-seeming things go swooping by.
Joseph’s book is more merry-go-round than roller coaster, a slowed-down look at the Palin phenomenon from a variety of perspectives (tilted somewhat in favor of the view from the right side of the political spectrum, what with all those subtle digs at the “progressive media establishment.”). Wild Card isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind about Palin – readers looking for a polemic will need to turn elsewhere – but it does offer a comprehensive overview of the rapid ascent of Wasilla’s favorite daughter.
Joseph efficiently recounts the Palin saga, from her childhood, through her high school days as “Sarah Barracuda” the basketball standout, to her obscurity-annihilating entre onto the national stage in Dayton, Ohio as exhibit A in John McCain’s moribund campaign shakeup, to her future as a standard bearer for disaffected conservatives.
But there’s a potentially large problem with Wild Card for many readers – especially the politically savvy: there’s not much here that regular readers of Time, the New York Times, Politico, the Huffington Post , or viewers of Fox News, won’t already be well familiar with. Joseph has chosen to tell Palin’s story largely cobbled together from previously printed articles and interviews.
All political biographers rely on previously printed matter. In Joseph’s case, however, there appears to be almost no original reporting. There’s no crime in simply collating what’s come before, but with a figure like Palin, who still remains so enigmatic (What newspapers does she read? Did she really try to ban books at the Wasilla public library? Does she secretly harbor ambitions for the highest office in the land?), most people will want to know more than what has already been widely reported.
The book is at its most interesting when discussing Palin’s religious values in particular and the evangelical community’s increasing power to shape elections in general. Joseph seems energized trying to locate Palin’s particular brand of wilderness-inflected Pentecostalism within the larger context of a less-dogmatic social conservatism. (I would have liked more on this subject, since it appears to be an issue of increasing importance in American elections.)
Coming in at just over 200 pages, the book is an efficient dummies’ guide to Sarah Palin. The writing throughout is clear and concise, and sources are always clearly identified. (An index would have been helpful, though, and should be a standard feature for a book such as this.)
For those who care little for politics, or only find themselves paying attention to the process or its practitioners every four years during the presidential election cycle, Wild Card will likely prove to be a useful gazetteer to the life and strange times of Sarah Palin. But for those who already know something of Sarah Palin from her recent years in the spotlight, Wild Card will serve mostly as a reminder of all those things about her that you love – or that you despise – as we all prepare for the rollercoaster ride of the 2012 presidential campaign.
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