A particularly shrewd political analyst once remarked that Ronald Reagan's great strength as a candidate was that he was "a sincere phoney". In the world of electoral realpolitik, that is a compliment.

What the analyst meant was that Reagan had the ability to convince himself that he actually held expedient views he had never previously entertained and that belief, in turn, allowed him to speak of them with utter conviction. Thus, the governor who had signed the nation's most permissive abortion-rights statute became the resolutely pro-life president.

Sarah Palin's autobiography — Going Rogue: An American Life — suggests that while she may be overreaching when she aspires to the Great Communicator's mantle as leader of the conservative movement, she may well be able to claim his facility for convenient sincerity.

Least but not last

Take, for example, the matter of this book's authorship. It is customary for politicians and celebrities to collaborate with a professional writer on books such as this, particularly when they are produced on a tight deadline, as Going Rogue was, and the publisher has a multimillion-dollar advance on the table, as Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins reportedly does with this volume.

However, the name of Palin's collaborator — the evangelical Christian writer and pro-life activist Lynn Vincent — doesn't appear on the cover of Going Rogue. Collaborators sometimes trade such credits for higher fees but their names usually appear prominently in the acknowledgments.

Palin's first acknowledgment goes to ... herself: "I'm very glad this writing exercise is over. I love to write, but not about myself. ... " Three paragraphs later, after she has thanked her lawyer Robert Barnett and five HarperCollins executives and editors, Vincent's name is mentioned with several others.

It is an interesting reticence because Vincent's previous books include a biography of General William Boykin, whom George W. Bush canned for injecting too much Christianity into the war on terror, and an account of the Democratic Party designed to show that its "true history" is "a tale of dishonesty, crime and corruption".

Vincent reportedly was selected for this job in large part for her ability to connect with evangelical Christians and they won't be disappointed to find that Palin discerns "God's hand" and a divine purpose in nearly every turn of her life, including her tenure in Wasilla, Alaska's city hall.

Actually, the hand most obviously working throughout Going Rogue is Vincent's. The narrative is sprinkled with literary and philosophical references that one somehow doubts sprang from the copious pages of Palin's diaries.

More than half the book deals with Palin's life before the last presidential campaign, so there is a lot of winter, guns, fish guts, long hours at the nets under the midnight sun and a great deal about Palin's fondness for meat, particularly caribou and moose. There is even a photo of her father teaching her to skin a harbour seal, an activity the caption informs is now forbidden for all but native peoples under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Ah, for the good old days.

When he ran a London restaurant, the late chef Keith Floyd used to keep a bowl of split shot in the kitchen, and would drop a couple of pellets into the game birds he sent out. It gave his patrons a kind of thrill to discover them on their plates, evoking as they did a suggestion of the hunt. Going Rogue has more than a few pieces of rhetorical split shot scattered through the narrative.

Convincing admiration

Palin is genuinely convincing in her admiration for Reagan but one of the things she misses about his appeal was the utter absence of resentment from his persona. This book, on the other hand, fairly seethes with resentment, particularly in the more than 100 pages devoted to the McCain-Palin campaign.

Most of the news coverage has centred on her anger towards the way she was handled by the campaign staff and the news media, apart from Fox News, of course. There are lots of charges here but the McCain aides have been firing back — something a moose never does — and they seem to have documentation to back up their versions of events.

Going Rogue is so obviously a campaign biography that a reader comes away trying to figure out what he thinks of Palin's presidential chances rather than what he thinks of her. In that context, the constructive example is not Reagan but Jesse Jackson.

For years the clergyman and civil rights activist spoke to the most viscerally committed factions of the Democratic base in a way no other political figure did. Palin appears to be something similar — a figure from the political periphery who nonetheless speaks to her party's passionate heart. That enthusiasm notwithstanding, the polls agree that most Americans believe she is not qualified to be chief executive.

The same veteran analyst who made that remark about Reagan's sincerity used to say to me: "Jackson's strength is his base. The reason Jackson never will be elected is his base." The same may be true of Palin because her connection to her base is grounded in a common set of resentments and grievances, a sense of being always on the defensive. All that runs through Going Rogue like a thread. Reagan, on the other hand, connected to people with a kind of open-handed optimism that was convincing because it was what he felt. Palin is right when she says "he had steel spine".

What she misses is that it was flexible steel.

For that reason, first Hollywood and then history made Ronald Reagan a leading man. The ambitious politician who emerges from the pages of Going Rogue seems destined for a career of character roles

Going Rogue: An American Life By Sarah Palin, Harper, 413 pages, $28.99