Lopez: Why do you spend a whole chapter on Palin and religious faith?
Joseph: Because religion is the ghost in almost every story and holds the key to understanding people, especially politicians. Nixon rejected absolutes in college, which led directly to Watergate, while Carter’s naive form of Christianity caused him to misunderstand human nature and led him to make severe miscalculations on the world stage. In Palin’s case her Pentecostal background is a key to understanding her, and people above my pay grade should look into that and find the significance of what it means that somebody from that wing of Christianity may be in power. I don’t think she’s dangerous or anything like that. Pentecostals are not snake-handlers. But I think understanding Pentecostalism will be a key to understanding Sarah Palin. I delve into her religious upbringing, the preachers who influenced her, and the significance of faith in her life.
Lopez: You’re a cultural observer. What do you make of Bristol Palin, now a cultural figure?
Joseph: I have no idea. I just hope she turns out well and makes a good life for herself and her child away from the spotlight.
Lopez: Why would you ever compare a candidate to a war tactic — “shock & awe,” in one of your chapters?
Joseph: That was the only way I knew how to describe the reaction to her — particularly among Democrats and the Obama campaign. There was the first shock of her pick, which on paper was brilliant. And then there was the awe that many Americans felt when she gave her first speech at the GOP convention. It was masterful. I remember watching it on Tivo at one in the morning that night and it completely blew me away. But she just wasn’t ready to give those kinds of performances consistently, and the gaps in her knowledge became obvious. But I don’t fault her for this. She wasn’t ready. And that’s John McCain’s fault.
Lopez: You make movies. Are you annoyed Steve Bannon beat you to a Palin movie?
Joseph: Not at all. The idea never occurred to me and documentaries aren’t really my area — I’ve only produced one, so I wouldn’t be the right person for it anyway. I knew Steve was meeting with her, though he never told me he was working on this. But I have seen Generation Zero, which just blew me away. I thought his thesis was just fascinating — the notion that mothers in the Fifties had grown up in the Depression and WWII and so they wanted life to be perfect for little Johnny, coddled him — so he became a hippie and today runs Wall Street. I mean I’d never connected those dots before. He’s the Michael Moore of the Right, and I watch both of their movies with great interest.
What is the most surprising thing you learned about Sarah Palin while writing the book?
Joseph: That she fired the Alaska Board of Agriculture in order to gain control of the creamery board since she couldn’t otherwise directly influence the board, which had threatened to close down. And that she opposed her own mother-in-law when she ran for office because she didn’t agree with her political philosophy. I have a mother-in-law. That takes some gumption.
Lopez: So will she run for president or not?
Joseph: Yes. But not in 2012.
Lopez: If you were advising her, what would you recommend?
Joseph: She has time on her side. In Reagan years, it’s still 1957 for her. She should step out of the spotlight, and spend time reading the great works of her movement — Rusher, Buckley, Chambers, Friedman, Hayek, Johnson, Solzhenitsyn, Sowell, etc. — and grapple with how to apply those principles to the Internet age. She should host a syndicated daytime TV talk show that mixes politics and pop culture and earn the trust of the American people over the next decade. That would allow her to overcome the awkwardness and syntax issues that seem to plague her from time to time. If she did that, she could become a powerful force, a sort of hybrid of Oprah and Reagan.