Well, I’ve finished the Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin, by Frank Bailey. The latter part of the book is perhaps less focused than the earlier parts–I found myself getting misplaced on the timeline, and stumbling across the occasional goober, but those things became largely irrelevant in the larger messages this book carries.
While opinions about the Palins’ morality or lack thereof will undoubtedly differ wildly for a long time to come, Bailey’s book provides a bizarre, troubling picture of a government that, in the end, seems to exist more to settle scores than to actually serve the public.
A Palin spokesperson characterized Mr. Bailey as “the quintessential disgruntled employee,” but to dismiss this book as nothing more than sour grapes is to miss the book’s true value. It’s actually a pretty good book to consider discussing with your children, for the very fact that it brings up so many important questions, and addresses so many issues that we all face.
1. Charisma. Bailey repeatedly refers to Sarah Palin’s charm and charisma, and to her ability to draw disaffected followers back into the fold after being treated shabbily. I found myself thinking of my own school days, and the power a charming person wields–and how very difficult it can be to act counter to their wishes. Bailey recounts participating in actions as part of the “Palin-bots” (his word) that he found repugnant upon consideration. He speaks of character assassination, rigging polls, and exacting terrible vengeance on those who had crossed Sarah Palin, or who he felt threatened her in some way. The very matter-of-factness with which he discusses such things is chilling–and when he ultimately takes a good look at where his blind allegiance has taken him he is as horrified as anyone. In a world increasingly ruled by extremists, the lesson Mr. Bailey has to teach about thinking for one’s self, and remaining true to one’s own ideals in the face of incredible pressure, are vital.
2. Setting priorities. Frank Bailey describes a workplace in which time which should have been used for governing the State of Alaska is largely squandered in settling personal scores, in “spinning” the news, and in a constant quest for media attention.
As someone who has worked in the marketing industry in various capacities, I have perhaps a greater appreciation for the value of positive publicity than many, but here’s the thing: you can have the greatest publicity in the world, but if you don’t back it up with a quality product it’s actually counter-productive. In this case, the ‘quality product’ in question was the financial, social, cultural, and environmental health of Alaska–and if Mr. Bailey’s picture is accurate there wasn’t a lot of time devoted to product development. Bailey makes the very good point that while in some instances time was spent in ethically questionable or outright harmful activities, in many other instances the issue was a matter of priorities. Was it really necessary to expend staff time and energy on issues that were, in reality, not that important? In many instances, the question seems to have been less a decision between “good” and “evil” than a decision between “valuable,” “less valuable,” and “not valuable at all.”
The question of priorities is perhaps the least sensational of the questions this book raises, but I find myself thinking that it might have been the single greatest contributing factor to the failure of the Palin administration–priorities got lost, or skewed, or distorted. It makes me think of William Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming:”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It’s tempting to see Sarah Palin’s failures as manifold, each scandal a separate universe. Mr. Bailey’s book reminds readers that the true failure was not in the multitude of little scandals, but a failure of the center.
3. Owning up. As I said yesterday, Mr. Bailey and I differ on many things, but in reading his book I found myself respecting him immensely for his willingness to accept responsibility for his part in the less savory aspects of the Palin Administration–and most of all, for finally, at long last, taking a hard look at himself and changing his course. That’s not easy to do, and it speaks volumes for his personal integrity that he manages to do so–and that once he acknowledges that his blind allegiance has led him far from where he wants to be, he stops, looks around, and changes directions.
In the end, Blind Allegiance is about personal integrity, and finding the strength to face down not one’s enemies nor even one’s friends, but one’s heroes.