Since entering the national scene last fall as John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin has attracted hefty media attention from friends and foes alike. Now her full-time job seems to be making media appearances promoting her newly released Going Rogue: An American Life. Last week she appeared in interviews with Barbara Walters and Oprah, criticized Newsweek's cover featuring her in running shorts, and even stopped by Montreat, North Carolina, for a dinner Sunday night with the Rev. Billy Graham.
Most media coverage has focused on speculation about Palin's plans for 2012. Several interviewers have asked about her presidential aspirations. Palin told Walters that she wants to play a major part in politics in the future "if people will have me," although she claims that the elections are not on her "radar screen." Her claim has led many commentators to question her true motives. But instead of debating Palin's merits as a political candidate, what if media outlets considered the good she is already doing as an advocate? With personal experience to back her up, Palin has the capacity to breathe new life into pro-life issues such as abortion, end-of-life care, and disability rights.
Palin told Oprah that she enjoys feeling less "handled" since giving up her political titles. She is at her best when focusing on specific issues, and is passionate when speaking about her children. Her descriptions of balancing full-time parenting and full-time politics are an important element of the book, and she talks about applying the lessons of motherhood to politics (to the point of "letting the mom come out" in debates). Throughout anecdotes (changing Trig's diaper was the last thing she did before speaking at the Republican National Convention) and tougher episodes (two miscarriages, and her teenage daughter's pregnancy), Palin emphasizes the value of human life, a belief she continues to articulate by way of her media platform.
Palin writes that when she found out she was pregnant with Trig, who would be her fifth child, she felt the pressure of her political responsibilities and understood how a woman could think of getting pregnant as a "problem." Then she explains the power of right-to-life groups:
If not for those groups providing an affirming voice, it would be so easy to go along with what society wants women to believe: that it's easier to end a pregnancy than to bring the baby into this world. Society has made women believe that they cannot do both—pursue career, or education, or anything else, and still carry a baby. Pro-life and pro-adoption groups affirm the power and strength of women. Even if it's just a seed of faith the pro-child message plants in a parent's mind, that bit of faith can grow.
That was before her doctor diagnosed her unborn child with Down syndrome. On Oprah, Palin admitted that the diagnosis scared her. Oprah asked Palin whether she considered abortion at that point. "Not so much a consideration but an understanding," Palin said. "It also, though, really solidified my position that, yep, there are less-than-ideal circumstances in so many of our lives. It's how we will react to those circumstances, how we will plow through them, and make the most of what we've been given."
Palin, who briefly describes her conversion experience (at a youth Bible camp) and writes about the sense of purpose she felt upon entering politics, is matter-of-fact when stating her beliefs and quoting Scripture. I suspect the reason critics cannot accept that Palin doesn't know what's next for her is because she is waiting for God to fill her in. "I don't know if this chapter is ending or just beginning, but You do, so I hand it all over to You again," she writes at the end of the book.
Palin promised that her resignation as governor "wouldn't be the end of my work to make a difference." As she told Oprah, she doesn't need a title to do that. None of us need a title to follow God, either, but I suppose a title can sometimes result along the way. Time will tell for Palin. Regardless of whether she ever runs for office again, I'd like to see her continue to use her national platform to speak out on the issues she has lived.
Alicia Cohn previously interned at Christianity Today magazine. She has written for Her.meneutics about Anne Graham Lotz, parental rights, journalists in North Korea, Juanita Bynum, the Breast Cancer Bible, and The Stoning of Soraya M.