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Book review: 'Sarah' -- filling in the gaps

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
If that Disney version of Sarah Palin's life were ever to be made, the script would probably be based on "Sarah" by Kaylene Johnson.

The 137-page -- 32 of which are pictures -- large-fonted storybook
re-telling of Palin's life depicts that positive image much of America
heard of Palin in her vice presidential nominee acceptance speech at
the Republican National Convention -- and repeated by Palin on the
stump several times in the past two weeks.

If it's a fair, investigative piece you're looking for, this isn't it.
But what the book, written by someone who doesn't
claim to be a journalist, does do is fill in some of the detail of
Palin's early life and paints a picture of a tenacious, headstrong,
even stubborn person, who has an uncanny ability to connect with voters
and is ultimately guided by a moral compass of right and wrong. The
book, with a copyright of 2008, was likely published before
"Troopergate" began to boil. Its epilogue has a reference to March
2008, but "Troopergate" really began to get more attention after the
state's top cop was fired in July.

Palin did take great political risk with pushing ethics investigations
forward on members of her own political party. It's clear that the
Republican establishment was not a friend of Palin's, and she had to
scrimp by with low-budget campaigns, her own grit and her lauded
hand-to-hand campaign style.

A lack of specifics
But it also lays out that Palin was elected because of her reform
message in a state frustrated by corruption -- not because of her depth
of knowledge on the issues. Her lack of specificity confounded Democrat
Tony Knowles' campaign -- endorsed by major newspapers in the state.

She was adept at the art of deflection in debates. At one gubernatorial
forum, for example, Knowles laid out a four-year education plan. Palin
instead "paid tribute to her father as a beloved school teacher and
promised -- without specifics -- to make education a top priority."

With her or against her
There is only brief mention of Palin, a former town councilwoman,
asking the librarian to resign -- as well as every other department
head in the town of Wasilla, including the police chief. They supported
an opponent during Palin's first bid to be mayor, in which she defeated
the incumbent 651-440. There was a large outcry from much of the
established town officials who even considered launching recall efforts
in her first two weeks in office.

Palin didn't wilt. Instead, she hunkered down and issued what
could almost be described as the Palin Doctrine -- you were either with
her, or against her.

In fairness, the town had been used to operating in a certain way. And Palin was now elected to be in charge. She probably needed to show some grit -- that she wouldn't be intimidated -- so she could ultimately lead. Johnson's depiction is that Palin largely delivered on her campaign promises, and then won by a larger margin in her re-election bid in 1999, 826-255.

Sports Arena: Palin wanted to move the town forward, so she raised sales taxes, the book says, by half a percent to fund a $15 million sports arena. But the book doesn't mention that the project saddled the town, which had $0 debt when Palin took office, with about $20 million in debt when she left.

Bridge to Nowhere: There is only fleeting mention of the "bridge to nowhere" in the epilogue -- that Palin "withdrew state support" for the project. But Johnson makes no mention of Palin having supported the bridge in her run up to governor or that she only pulled the plug after the national spotlight and Congressional outcry made the project unpopular.

Todd and Sarah: It mentions that a then-Sarah Heath and Todd Palin eloped, but there's no mention that her first child Track was born eight months later, according to Newsweek. An interesting note from the book, that Sarah and Todd were told when they got to a nearby town's courthouse that needed witnesses in order to get married, "so they walked across the street" to a "state-run nursing home." "Two volunteers, one of them in a wheelchair and the other supported by a walker, looked on…"

Todd and Sarah met in high school. He was new to the area and at Wasilla High just his senior year. Palin said in the book that there was competition for Todd, and other girls had "T-O-D-D" written on their knuckles. Ultimately, Todd said there was no competition. The only explanation as to why from Todd was, "She was the best-looking girl on the basketball team."

Sarah Palin describes Todd as "competitive" when it comes to commercial fishing, even and particularly with family and called him a "brutal boss." In fact, one day when she was on board, she broke several fingers when her hand, which was on a railing was smashed when the boat "sidled up to a tender to which they were delivering a load of fish." Todd brought her to shore, but then picked her up the next day and even with a bandaged hand, she went back out to help him fish.

"I couldn't disappoint him," Palin said in the book. "No matter how cold or nauseous, you just didn't complain."

The college days: As far as Palin's college experience, there is no mention of Palin transferring out of the University of Idaho to Mat-Su College, a two-year school, near Wasilla -- and that Palin later transferred back and finished at the University of Idaho, as reported by the Associated Press. Johnson hardly questions why Palin transferred so many times -- five times by our count.

It mentions that Palin and a friend got straight As while in Hawaii -- without any attribution or evidence. There are no transcripts mentioned or shown.

If most people were applying for a job, they would almost certainly be asked why they transferred schools so many times and request to see their transcripts. There may be legitimate reasons, but the questions would be raised. To this point, Palin's college transcripts have not been made public.

The reasons culled from the book for the transfers -- at Hawaii Hilo, her first school, it rained too much. But Hilo is an area known for its rain, and the question isn't raised as to whether Palin had researched the school beforehand to know that.

Palin apparently decided to go to idyllic Hawaii for college with three friends. They all decided to transfer to Hawaii Pacific University, but two of them became homesick and returned to Alaska. At Hawaii Pacific, Palin lived in an apartment a block from the beach, but she and her friend missed dorm life and winter.

So they transferred to North Idaho College, a two-year school, where Palin "didn't do anything particularly wild" except for once setting off a dorm fire alarm. She had to apologize to the dean.

Palin was born in Idaho; her older brother Chuck was attending the University of Idaho. Palin then transferred to the University of Idaho, wanting to continue her studies in broadcast journalism, explained in the book, in part, after seeing herself on camera for a 30-minute videotaped speech in a class at North Idaho.

But then a gap in Palin's education isn't explored in the book, but which AP writes about -- that she transferred to Matanuska-Susitna College, or Mat-Su College. It's another two-year school -- in "the Valley," near her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. She then transferred back to the University of Idaho a year later, where she eventually graduated in 1987 -- five years after graduating high school, five transfers, six different college experiences.

The chef: It mentions that the governor's chef was laid off and that she put the governor's jet up for sale on eBay. It doesn't mention that the chef was hired back on for the legislature or that the jet never sold on the Web site. And when it was sold it was sold at a loss.

Children: The book mentions that her latest child, Trig, has Down syndrome, but there is no mention or explanation as to why she got on a plane after she realized her amniotic fluid was leaking in Texas and then flew eight hours to Alaska -- after a layover in Seattle. Palin said she checked with her doctor and that she was not in labor -- that she'd had had four other children and knew what labor was.

The Alaska Daily News on the baby's delivery from April 22: "Early Thursday -- she thinks it was around 4 a.m. Texas time -- she consulted with her doctor, family physician Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who is based in the Valley and has delivered lots of babies, including Piper, Palin's 7-year-old. Palin said she felt fine but had leaked amniotic fluid and also felt some contractions that seemed different from the false labor she had been having for months. 'I said I am going to stay for the day. I have a speech I was determined to give," Palin said. She gave the luncheon keynote address for the energy conference.

"Palin kept in close contact with Baldwin-Johnson. The contractions slowed to one or two an hour, 'which is not active labor,' the doctor said. 'Things were already settling down when she talked to me.' … Palin did not ask for a medical OK to fly, the doctor said. 'I don't think it was unreasonable for her to continue to travel back.' Palin: 'I am not a glutton for pain and punishment. I would have never wanted to travel had I been fully engaged in labor,' Palin said.

"Still, a Sacramento, Calif., obstetrician who is active in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said when a pregnant woman's water breaks, she should go right to the hospital because of the risk of infection. That's true even if the amniotic fluid simply leaks out, said Dr. Laurie Gregg. 'To us, leaking and broken, we are talking the same thing. We are talking doctor-speak,' Gregg said.

"Palin said she wanted him born in Alaska but wouldn't have risked anyone's health to make that happen." But Todd said, "You can't have a fish picker from Texas."

We do learn why her children are named what they are:
-- Track -- because of the season he was born in. Palin's father is track and field coach, and Palin herself was a distance runner. Palin without hesitation says in the book if it were basketball season, her oldest son would have been named "Hoop." Palin also played basketball. Apparently, Palin chose not to run for U.S. Senate against Lisa Murkowski because Track was wary of the spotlight. The rest of the family was on board. (Johnson writes Palin was at one point on a list of eight to fill the U.S. Senate seat -- before Gov. Murkowski chose his own daughter.)

-- Bristol -- the bay where she and her husband fished.

-- Willow -- Alaska's state bird, the willow ptarmigan.

-- Piper Indy -- A Piper Cub is the type of plane Todd flies and a Polaris Indy is the "snowmobile Todd drove in the first of his four victories in the Iron Dog snowmobile race…"

-- Trig Paxson Van -- Apparently Trig has two norse meanings – "true" and "brave victory." "Paxson is the name of an Interior lake popular among snow machiners." No explanation in the book on the name "Van," but AP wrote that it was "an homage to the rock band Van Halen," which recently supposedly said it had not given permission to use the song, "Right Now."