Initially I planned to ignore this week’s release of Good Tidings and Great Joy, Sarah Palin’s book waging war on the war on Christmas. Few political hucksters milking the culture war for an easy buck peddle antics more shopworn than the annual fear-mongering that secularist Scrooges are coming for our creches.
But then I couldn’t stop wondering: What happens when the Queen of Grievance takes up arms on behalf of the Prince of Peace’s birthday?
I’ll tell you what happens. Pure magic.
Don’t misunderstand. Palin’s book is neither well-written nor informative on either a political or a theological level. She does what plenty before her have done: scour the news for any cases of holiday-themed lawsuits or political scuffles, even ones where Christmas emerges triumphant, and whip them into a towering soufflé of proof that Jesus’s, and maybe even Santa’s, days are numbered. Her favorite conceit is to weave unconnected news snippets into over-the-top fantasy sequences—some set in the future! That allows her to mash up real-world episodes with more baroque scenarios sprung from the fever swamps of her imagination (like the lad docked points for using the word “Christmas” in a school essay), jack up the outrage factor with moralizing dialogue, and then proclaim: See, it’s all really happening!
But to focus on Palin’s narrative or polemic gifts is to miss the point. The book is not, as the subtitle maternally suggests, about “Protecting the Heart of Christmas.” As with pretty much everything the former governor does, this is all about Venting the Spleen of Sarah. And that’s what makes it so gosh darn refreshing. Screw those treacly holiday offerings aiming to melt your heart or lift your spirits. Dickens? Bah, humbug. It’s a Wonderful Life? Sentimental swill. That tear-jerking “Christmas Shoes” song so nakedly exploitative that it makes you want to take a blowtorch to your ears? ’Nuff said. Good Tidings and Great Joy gives the finger to all that, offering instead Palin at her toxic best: snippy, snarky, snide, and thoroughly pissed off.
From the first chapter, it is clear that, whatever her concerns about “a Christ-less Christmas,” Palin has found a convenient frame on which to hang her rage at pretty much everything: Obamacare, Obamaphones, Nancy Pelosi, the national debt, gay marriage, sexual sin, crony capitalism, the preferential treatment of Muslims (whoo-wee! does she get rolling on that one), the lamestream media, Chick-fil-A haters, abortion, Mitt Romney’s hair, and on and on. No liberal stereotype, from Birkenstocks to the French, vegans, and NPR, is too tired to sneer at. She goes so far as to close her first chapter helpfully with a rant against those who claim the entire war on Christmas “conversation” is “the result of hypersensitivity, intolerance, or—their favorite criticism for us ‘bitter clingers’—ignorance and fear of change. (See how I did that? I just summarized 90 percent of the book reviews for my critics, so they don’t even have to read the rest. You betcha, I helped you out!)”
Even anecdotes that are supposed to be upbeat turn out to be barbed. After noting that her Christmas Eve tradition includes a candelabra filled with Chanukah candles, Palin sniffs, “See, I embrace diversity.” And after sharing how fun it was to watch daughter Bristol perform on Dancing With the Stars—and to come back for the All-Star season—she quotes her daughter approvingly, “Heh! Exactly! The critics are going to criticize anyway, and the haters are going to hate, so you might as well dance!” (Italics in the original, of course.)
Above all, Palin never misses an opportunity to turn the attention back toward herself and how shabbily she has been treated in recent years. For instance, what begins as a disquisition on how atheists are the only Americans who demand to be legally protected from being offended quickly morphs into Palin talking about all the “concentrated ‘offense’” she stoically shouldered in 2008. (“During that campaign, I saw obscene protesters, had my personal e-mail hacked, was mischaracterized through ridiculously scandalous headlines, received death threats, and was stalked.”) In case anyone misses the point, she revisits the same theme a few chapters later, when recalling her state of mind on Christmas Night 2008: “I’d been through a challenging campaign for the vice presidency in which I’d been maligned, my family had been mocked, my e-mail had been hacked, and our privacy lost. There was literally no accusation against us that was too strange, too bizarre, to publish.”
Not that the abuse ended after the election, mind you. By way of explaining to readers how a vocal “fringe” of atheists command so much attention, Palin offers: “When I post something on Facebook, for example, you wouldn’t believe the angry, outraged, and just plain silly and rude responses that immediately follow. And that doesn’t even touch on the vile tweets people fire off. Does that mean a huge percentage of readers dislike what I write? I honestly don’t think so.” And don’t get her started on the ethics investigation of her tenure as governor: “I was slammed with ridiculous charges (some charges so hilarious they actually gave participating lawyers a bad name), costing millions of dollars and most hours of my days…”
Even in Palin’s fantasy scenarios, it all comes back to (imaginary) personal slights. In one, she lays out a dark episode in which Todd refuses to wish her “Happy Birthday” for fear that the phrase would not adequately encompass all the other things that happened on that day in history.
And on and on and on she goes, grinding that ax until it’s sharp enough decapitate a moose with one blow.
That isn’t to suggest there is no sweetness, light, or levity in the book. Palin’s story about nearly giving a really rich guy an oosik for Christmas is chuckle-worthy. (Even if it does end with her whinging about the intrusiveness of TSA agents.) And the section where she talks about how she and Todd got into a fight over how to respond to Bristol’s pregnancy carries a whiff of real pathos.
For the most part, however, Palin steers clear of good tidings and great joy—and all that other mushy stuff we so often associate with Christmas stories. Without intending to, the score-keeping, eternally offended governor may have penned the perfect manual for a different holiday altogether: Festivus. Let the airing of grievances begin!