I purchased Sarah Palin’s second book, America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag, when it was first released. I attended the book signing in West Des Moines, IA the following weekend. I ended up not getting the same book back that I came with, so my apologies to the person who got my book with the first four chapters having bracket symbols and sentences underlined.
I’ve finished with the book rather quickly, but due to time constraints I haven’t been able to sit down to write out my thoughts about the book. For starters this book should satisfy the critics who said Going Rogue: An American Life didn’t touch on her positions and policies enough. While America By Heart is not a wonkish book it does lay out a framework for what “commonsense constitutional conservatism” (a term she used at the end of Going Rogue). She offers a quick synopsis in the introduction of the book:
What I’ve come to realize is that, as a country, our true north is the values and principles on which we were founded – those values that are under attack today. When times are uncertain – when we’re worried about the direction our country is headed in, as we are today – we can always turn to these fundamental principles. Truth be told, they’re old ideas, not just the notion that our government should be limited, but also that all men and women are created equal before the law; that life is sacred; and that God is the source of our rights, not government, (pg. xvii-xviii).
She fleshes that out throughout the book. In the first chapter of the book, “We The People,” as an Iowan I read with interest her thoughts on judicial activism.
The Supreme Court, along with the rest of the federal judiciary, has tremendous power over our lives today. Their rulings mean the difference between free political speech and censored political speech, property rights that are protected by government and property rights that are routinely violated by government, and the survival of innocent life and the state-sanctioned killing of innocent life. The reason this is the case is because so many of the people who appoint and approve our judges and justices erroneously believe the courts’ duty isn’t to interpret the law but to make the law. In cases where their agenda can’t prevail among the people’s representatives in Congress, they have turned to the courts to make policy. That means having judges and justices no longer guided by the Constitution and the law, but by their personal opinions. President Obama himself has said that, in the really difficult, consequential cases, justices shouldn’t go with the law but with their hearts. “That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy,” the president said.
But if you look at the oath of office that every Supreme Court justice takes, you see that it commits them to a very different standard. They pledge not to pick winners and losers based on their hearts or their “empathy,” but to impartially apply the Constitution and the law, (pg. 15).
She emphasized the fact that our rights, our inalienable rights that are given by God, are sacred and that “government can’t legitimately violate them or add to them,” (pg. 20). She discussed in the context of of the health care debate where Congress tried manufacture a new “right” which is something they clearly can not and should not do.
She also states clearly and believes unlike our current President, that America is indeed an exceptional country. “We are the only country in the history of the world that was founded not on a particular territory or culture or people, but on an idea. That ides is that all human beings have a God-given right to be free,” (pg. 37). She says that we should be able to talk about America that demonstrates our pride in her greatness, but also recognizes her faults, (pg. 63). We should be able to see that America has largely been a force for good in the world, (pg. 67). She notes that one of the keys to American exceptionalism is the 10th Amendment.
The federal government’s powers are limited to those listed in the Constitution. Everything else belongs to the states and the people. We give you the power; you don’t give us the power. We are sovereign, (pg. 72).
She notes the Constitution’s relationship to the family:
What the Founders focused their energy on, then wasn’t a government that sought to control or shape families, but a government that could capitalize on the virtues of trust and self-restraint that families create – a government that could respect and honor good citizens by allowing them to live and prosper in freedom. The Constitution’s relationship to the family, then, was meant to be reciprocal: to depend upon the virtues of family life to make its system of government work, while protecting the freedom of families to create self-governing citizens, (pg. 112).
Making her case before she quotes John Adams who wrote, “the foundation of national morality must be laid in private families.” He later wrote… “public virtue is the only Foundation of the Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public interest, Honor, Power and Glory, established in the Mind of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty.”
The founding fathers didn’t address families much only that it was assumed on their part, Palin notes, “that a republic relies on informed and virtuous citizens, and that informed and virtuous citizens are created in turn by strong families,” (pg. 109). She then goes on to say that our leadership in Washington, “have completely abandoned the idea of a government that relies on strong families at the same that it respects the liberty and rights of these families,” (pg. 113). She notes later on how this is played out on how families are defined:
The left wants us to believe that any grouping we choose to call a family is worthy of the name, that it doesn’t matter if children are raised by two loving parents or are shipped off to virtual full-time day care, and that divorce has no effect on children’s quality of life. But we now know that commonsense objections to these radical ideas are not based on close-minded prejudice. When it comes to raising good citizens, all “lifestyle choices” are not equal, (pg. 117)….
…What’s more, liberals often seek to blur the distinctions between our own and other people’s children. I have heard liberals claim that we “have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t any such thing as someone else’s child.” But this is madness. How can we know what it means to care about any children until we first fulfill our obligations to our own? To be responsible to “all children” is to be responsible for none; instead, it is to call for the creation of a suffocating state that erases all freedom and human attachment in the name of caring for “the children,” (pg. 124).
She addresses “Mama Grizzlies” – conservative females leaders who are working to redefine (actually remind) what feminism represents.
Some people are calling the emergences of these successful conservative females a new phenomenon in America – as if we’d just invented smart, capable women who also believe in the Constitution, the sanctity of life, and American exceptionalism. Truth is, mama grizzlies have been with us for a long time. These are the same women who settled the frontier, drove the wagons, ploughed the fields, ran cattle, taught their kids, raised their families – and fought for women’s rights. These women are like America itself: strong and self-sufficient. Not bound by what society says they should do and be, but determined to create their own destinies, (pg. 129).
She notes that today’s feminists’ idea of what a “real” woman should be “isn’t so much a woman as a liberal,” (pg. 135). “In the name of liberating women, modern feminism has wrapped us in a one-size-fits-all strait-jacket of political correctness.” She notes that modern feminism has in reality given women victimhood status (which isn’t empowering) and paint men as being brutes. Looking at the early suffragists Palin writes:
These courageous women spoke of our God-given rights because they believed they were given equally, by God, to men and women. They didn’t believe that men were oppressors, women were victims, and unborn children merely “personal choices.” They believed that we were children of God, and, as such, we were all – men, women, our littlest sisters in the womb, everyone – entitled to love and respect, (pg. 141).
Noting how America has shifted to a majority being “pro-life” she writes:
Despite the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling, American women and men haven’t been able to get over the stirrings of their consciences or move on from an issue that cuts to the heart of who we are as a people. Affirming the dignity and worth of every innocent human life and defending the defenseless are fundamental American values, (pg. 150-151).
…In sharp contrast to (Margaret) Sanger and her present-day admirers, the pro-life movement is strongly pro-women, and pro-woman Americans are increasingly pro-life. These women and men of conscience are the rightful heirs to the foremothers who fought for our rights at the turn of the last century. These warrior souls show their dedication not only to women, but the weakest among us: those with special needs, women without anyone to turn to, and children without a voice. They run the pregnancy resource centers, the counseling hotlines, the foster care facilities, the adoptions services, and countless other outreach programs that offer compassionate assistance and friendship to women who are struggling, (pg. 157).
She discusses “digging deep,” working hard – “nothing worthwhile comes without effort,” (pg. 161). She notes that this work ethic is one of the things that made America great. With the next generation she is concerned about this value not being passed down.
Sometimes I think we try too hard with kids these days to substitute this inner strength with empty praise. Everyone’s into building their kids’ self-esteem by telling them they’re all “winners,” assuring them that every scribbled picture is a work of art and every chaotic soccer game is a triumph. I understand the good intentions behind this, but I also worry that we’re not giving our kids the chance to discover what they’re made of. Kids know the difference between real praise and empty praise. When we don’t let them fail, when we tell them every average effort is superlative, we’re keeping them from discovering that hidden strength. We may think we’re helping them, but really we’re holding them back.
In fact, we may be creating a generation of entitled little whiners, (pg. 165-166).
This entitlement culture, in my estimation, has been growing for quite some time and has led to a larger welfare mentality and the belief that government is there to take care of us. Palin notes, “Everything that is worthwhile comes through effort. There is no free lunch. Anybody who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something – usually something paid for by your tax dollars,” (pg. 179).
Regarding the role of faith in public life she notes:
…the faith of our Founding Fathers shaped our nation in critical ways. They created a country that, in George Washington’s words, relies on faith as an “indispensible support.” They explicitly disavowed government establishment any particular religion, but they unmistakably relied on religion to produce the kinds of citizens that could live successfully in a state of political freedom. And this, I firmly believe, is one of the things that has always made us an exceptional nation, (pg. 183).
She says also that there is no government of man that can claim to represent the word of God. Also no government in the United States can compel its citizens to respect such a claim, (pg. 203). One the other hand she notes that any type of public religious expression is under attack.
Today’s secular elites don’t agree with appeals to religion because they generally don’t support the reasons for these appeals. Americans typically invoke faith in the public debate to support the sanctity of life, the preservation of marriage, and the nature of our freedom. Many liberals don’t support these things, so they regard bringing faith into the argument as somehow unfair or intolerant – or just beside the point. Of course, they’re happy to talk the God talk (if not walk the God walk) when it’s for a cause they believe in, (pg. 216). (giving examples of Nancy Pelosi & John Kerry)
…The question for so-called progressives, then, is: Which is it? Is it enlightened to talk about religion in the pursuit of liberal causes but constitutionally suspect when traditional American values are being defended. The fact is that religious faith has been invoked in every American movement of conscience, from the abolition of slavery to the prohibition of alcohol to the civil rights movement. Why is bringing faith into the argument good for thee, but not for me?
I have not been able to hit on every topic covered in this book in one blog post. She sums up in the conclusion what she discussed throughout the book –commonsense constitutional conservatism. She notes that Americans of all stripes “are awakening to two firm sources of unity: our founding Characters of Liberty, and the virtues necessary to live up to them.”
Maintaining a healthy republic requires a populace that adheres to those old-fashioned values of hard work, honesty, integrity, thrift, and courage. It is entirely right for us as a society to discuss the best way to foster those values. And after a half century of liberal social experimentation, we know what does this. It’s family (when we talk about limited government, it means the state knows better than the feds, the city knows better than the state, and the family knows better than the city). It’s faith (be it through religion or the moral values transmitted in our secular culture). And it’s flag (the understanding that we are an exceptional nation with an exceptional message for the world), (pg. 268).
She notes that “commonsense constitutional conservatism is about rediscovering our founding ideals and striving to be a nation that does justice to them,” (pg. 169).
The book doesn’t answer every question that the electorate will likely want answered if she decides to run in 2012, and it certainly won’t convert those suffering from PDS (Palin Derangement Syndrome). However, if you want to gain a better understanding of Sarah Palin’s core values and principles then America By Heart delivers. What America By Heart does provide is a vision for “commonsense constitutional conservatism,” matter of fact you can consider it a primer.
Shane Vander Hart is the editor of Caffeinated Thoughts and Caffeinated Theology. Feel free to friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.