Sarah Palin’s biography includes such honorifics as hockey mom, moose hunter, town mayor, governor, and now Republican vice-presidential nominee. But Palin’s detractors would like to add another title to that list: Book banner. It’s a surprisingly effective attack — but just another smear.
Fact is, Sarah Palin has never advocated censorship. She never railed against “filthy” literature as mayor or as governor. And although Palin is an evangelical Christian, the only real crusade in her career has been against political corruption and self-dealing.
Yet far-left bloggers and interest groups, abetted by Palin’s political rivals in Alaska and the press, say she harbors an urge to purge America’s libraries of “inappropriate” books. The Daily Kos says Palin’s record as mayor of Wasilla reveals “a fascist streak.” Time magazine reported in its profile of Palin that she “inject(ed) religious beliefs into her policy at times,” asking her library “how she could go about banning books.” And People for the American Way questioned why GOP nominee John McCain would choose a running mate with “so little regard for the Constitution.”
What could possibly inspire such vitriol? A twelve-year-old controversy, in which Palin, the newly elected mayor of Wasilla, asked city librarian Mary Ellen Emmons at least three times how she would feel if asked to remove objectionable books from library shelves. Naturally, Emmons said she would refuse. A few months later, Palin asked for Emmons’ resignation. The new mayor said she felt Emmons, who had been appointed by Palin’s predecessor and political rival, didn’t fully support her agenda and should step aside. But Palin made no mention of book banning in her demand for the librarian’s resignation.
Emmons fought and kept her job until 1999, when she finally stepped down. But her dispute with Palin played out in the pages of Wasilla’s local newspaper, the Frontiersman. Palin insisted her questions about pulling controversial books from the library shelves were “rhetorical” and had to do with clarifying city policy. But the librarian detected evil intent. “It (seemed) clear to me that wasn’t really what she was talking about,” Emmons told the Frontiersman in 1996.
Problem is, we have a Palin opponent giving a biased account, later backed by other Palin opponents, of what she felt the mayor wanted. Emmons was on record supporting her patron, a three-term incumbent, in Wasilla’s 1996 mayoral election. It should come as no surprise that Palin, who ran on a reform platform, would want to replace the old guard.
What books did Palin supposedly want to ban? Nobody knows. A phony list attributed to Palin that’s floating around the Internet includes books that hadn’t even been published when the censorship flap took place. Perhaps Palin’s critics will argue that she would alter the laws of space and time if it served her right-wing agenda.
The worst one could infer is that Palin raised the censorship issue in an ill-advised effort to appease some constituents, met resistance and let the matter drop to pursue more mundane city business. Emmons and Palin’s political enemies are free to speculate and impugn motives all they want. But results matter. And the bottom line is, Palin didn’t ban anything. Not in 1996. Not in 1999 after the librarian resigned. Not in 2006 when she ran for governor.
“We have no records of any books being ‘banned or censured’ ever,” said current Wasilla Mayor Dianne M. Keller in a written statement last week. In fact, a review of city records found that just two books have been challenged in Wasilla since 1996 — America (The Book) by Daily Show host Jon Stewart, and The Abduction by Mette Newthe. Both books remain on the library’s shelves.
It’s a fantastic leap from “no books ever banned” to “little regard for the Constitution.” The Palin book-ban imbroglio dovetails nicely with the Left’s habit over the past eight years to claim the Bush administration is the most repressive and intolerant in U.S. history. Much like the mass round-ups of political dissidents, the widespread closures of opposition newspapers and TV stations, and the relentless prosecutions of anti-war spokesmen under the Espionage Act, Sarah Palin’s contempt for the First Amendment exists only in the fevered imagination of partisans.
Sarah Palin may be a lot of things, but a censor she is not.
– Ben Boychuk is a freelance journalist and columnist. His RedBlueAmerica column with Joel Mathis appears weekly.