At my first book signing at BEA (Book Expo America) I came face to face with just the kind of readers I was hoping to attract when I wrote my new book Wild Card: The Promise & Peril of Sarah Palin: Of the 100 or so who asked for a book and an autograph, one seemed to be a huge fan of Palin's and eagerly walked away with his copy. Another told me how much he disliked Palin but that he had come to realize that if he was going to tell his friends about how wrong she was he needed to know more about her, admitting that he had been attacking her without really knowing much about her.
I realize I could have probably sold more books by declaring her to be the greatest thing since sliced bread or trashing her as some former aides are doing, but I found it much more interesting and compelling to try to understand her based on where she's been and what she's done, and to try and understand why she inspires such passion, both pro and con.
Here's an excerpt from Wild Card: The Promise & Peril Of Sarah Palin:
"America's introduction to Sarah Palin that first day in Dayton, Ohio featured a near picture-perfect family: there was the ruggedly handsome husband, the three bright and attractive daughters, Palin herself and a sweet baby boy with Down's Syndrome. But if Palin's pro-life philosophy that human life began at conception rather than birth were to be believed, there was another soul present but not visible that day: the unborn 5-month old child of Palin's oldest daughter, 17-year old Bristol.
It's possible the story may have stayed buried at least until the presidential campaign was over had it not been for a blogger at the liberal-leaning website DailyKos who began to blog about a rumor that Palin had faked her pregnancy in order to cover for her daughter who was alleged to have given birth in secret in April.
"Sarah, I'm calling you a liar. And not even a good one. Trig Paxson Van Palin is not your son," proclaimed the blogger. "He is your grandson. The sooner you come forward with this revelation to the public, the better."
Spinning a fantastical tale of deception backed by photographs that showed Sarah Palin not looking pregnant and Bristol with a slight pooch, DailyKos posited the theory that Palin had faked the pregnancy and birth, allowed her daughter to give birth, then pretended that the child was her own. While the story sounded ridiculous on its face, there were elements of Palin's version of events that didn't seem to add up either and suspicions were heightened by her decision to hide her pregnancy even from her closest aides until her seventh month, then allegedly giving birth a month earlier than expected. As far back as March Anchorage Daily News reporter Wesley Loy had noted the curiously late pregnancy announcement in a story that was widely circulated months later by the Kos blogger and others as proof that something about the official story wasn't quite right:
"The governor, who recently turned 44, told a handful of reporters as she was leaving work to expect a new member of the first family, then headed to a reception at the Baranof Hotel to feast on king crab," noted Loy at the time. "Palin said she's already about seven months along, with the baby due to arrive in mid-May. That the pregnancy is so advanced astonished all who heard the news. The governor, a runner who's always been trim, simply doesn't look pregnant. Even close members of her staff said they only learned this week their boss was expecting."
Loy then quoted several of Palin's colleagues who seemed equally puzzled by the surprise announcement:
"Really? No!" the reporter quoted state Rep. Mary Nelson as saying, while Lyda Green, President of the Senate said, "It's wonderful. She's very well disguised. When I was five months pregnant, there was absolutely no question that I was with child."
"Palin said she's not aiming to take any time off from her job as governor, assuming all goes well with the pregnancy,"Loy continued. "She said when she had Piper - Palin was mayor of Wasilla at the time - the baby was born on a Monday and she returned to the office on Tuesday."
For his part, Todd Palin appeared to be thrilled about the baby:
"I'm really excited. Every child you get from God. The more the merrier," he said.
"I've always been a believer that God's not going to give us anything that we cannot handle," Loy quoted Sarah Palin as saying, adding, "to any critics who say a woman can't think and work and carry a baby at the same time, I'd just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave."
DailyKos wasn't buying the official line however and soon produced photos of the governor allegedly taken in her seventh month that didn't seem to indicate a pregnancy. It also raised the matter of Palin's travel to Texas for a speech just a month before her due date where, shortly before speaking, she realized that she was leaking amniotic fluids and after completing her speech left for the long trip back to Alaska instead of heading to the nearest hospital. DailyKos further alleged that upon landing in her home state, instead of heading to the hospital closest to the airport, Palin then traveled 45 minutes in order to go to a particular hospital, presumably one that was going along with the alleged cloak and dagger operation.
When pictures of a very pregnant Palin were produced, however, the Kos blogger began to see his tale unravel and announced that he would no longer be reporting the story. But what he likely didn't realize was that his citizen-reporting, muckraking or not, may very well have forced Palin into making an admission that she and her family were likely hoping to avoid, for in order to combat the rumors, she was forced to announce that such a scenario would have been physically impossible since her daughter was, at the moment, five-months pregnant. The official announcement came from the McCain campaign:
"We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us," Palin said. "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support. Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."
Back home in Wasilla, Alaska, the news of Bristol's pregnancy was already known to at least some in the community, for she had been dating 17-year old Levi Johnston, described by the New York Daily News as a "superhunky bad-boy ice hockey player from cold country," for a year.
"He was the same kid from the beginning of the season to the end. No signs of anything like that," Johnston's coach Bill Sturdevant said when asked about Johnston. "He was a good kid to be around, with lots of friends. He was well-liked."
Johnston's MySpace page told a bit of a different story however.
"I'm a f---in' redneck. I live to play hockey. I like to go camping and hang out with the boys, do some fishing," he had written, adding a warning to those who would get in his way: "I'll kick a--"
Even more disturbing to Bristol's parents may have been his postings about children: "I don't want kids."
But by the time the Republicans convened in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Palin family secret was out in the open and the father of Sarah Palin's first grandson joined the family for photos after being greeted at the airport by John McCain himself. But the debate about Palin's family, and her choices, was just beginning; and it was about to get even uglier."