NEW YORK >> In her new book, Sarah Palin takes on everything from “American Idol” to “American Beauty,” revives talk of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and finds fault in JFK’s famous religion speech, saying he “seemed to want to run away” from his faith.
Who gets praise? Simon Cowell, for one. And the movies “Juno,” “Knocked Up” and “40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Barack Obama? Unsurprisingly, not so much. She accuses him of reflecting “a stark lack of faith in the American people,” among many other things — without tipping her hand on whether she will challenge him in 2012.
“America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag,” which has been billed as a tribute to American values, comes out Nov. 23. The Associated Press purchased a copy. Palin’s first book, the memoir “Going Rogue,” has sold more than 2 million copies.
In a chapter on faith and public life, Palin addresses at length John F. Kennedy’s noted speech on religion during the 1960 campaign — a speech many saw as crucial to counter sentiment that his faith would hold undue sway over him if he became the nation’s first Catholic president.
“I am not the Catholic candidate for president,” Kennedy said at the time. “I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.”
Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that JFK’s speech reconciled religion and public service without compromising either. But since she’s revisited the speech as an adult, she says, she’s realized that Kennedy “essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are.”
She praises Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for not “doing a JFK” during his campaign for the 2008 GOP nomination. “Where Kennedy seemed to want to run away from religion, Mitt Romney forthrightly embraced it,” she writes. She attributes the gulf not just to the difference between the men, but to the distance the country has come since 1960. Now, she says, America is “reawakening to the gift of our religious heritage.”
Palin is not the first conservative to challenge Kennedy’s speech. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania made similar remarks in September, saying he had admired Kennedy’s speech as a youth but later realized that “on that day, Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith.”
Historian Ted Widmer, who included the JFK speech in a Library of America anthology of the country’s oratory, said he was surprised by Palin’s comments.
“It’s putting a negative spin on what was interpreted at the time as a sensible and uplifting message,” said Widmer, himself a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. “JFK was trying to protect his own right to be a Catholic and to run for president.”
Palin’s potential presidential ambitions have been the subject of increasing chatter recently, with her every remark parsed for clues as to her 2012 plans. The former Alaska governor doesn’t detail her plans, but speaks of a need for new leaders.
“We’re worried that our leaders don’t believe what we believe, that America is an exceptional nation, the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan believed it is,” she writes. “We want leaders who share this fundamental belief. We deserve such leaders.”
Palin makes it clear she believes Obama is not such a leader. She accuses him of dismissing American “exceptionalism” as “a kind of irrational prejudice in favor of our way of life.”
In one of her more provocative passages, she returns to the subject of Wright, Obama’s controversial former pastor. And she revisits first lady Michelle Obama’s comment during the presidential race that “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.”
“I guess this shouldn’t surprise us, since both of them spent almost two decades in the pews of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church listening to his rants against America and white people,” Palin writes. Candidate Obama ultimately repudiated Wright in April 2008.
Michelle Obama later clarified her remark, saying she meant she was proud of how Americans were engaging in the political process and that she had always been proud of her country.
Also on the subject of race, Palin defends the tea party against accusations of racism, and charges the left with using that accusation in an attempt to shut down debate.
Palin, whose daughter Bristol is in the thick of a much-scrutinized run on “Dancing with the Stars,” takes aim at another competitive reality show, “American Idol.” She says the show’s “talent-deprived” contestants suffer from “the cult of self-esteem” to the extent that they grew up convinced they could be stars like Michael Jackson.
But Cowell, the acerbic judge who left the show at the end of last season? He is “almost alone in his willingness to tell hard truths,” Palin writes.
Her cultural critique is not limited to “Idol.” Palin praises the uplifting “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart, which teaches, she says, that “working hard and doing the right thing pays off in the end.” But look, she writes, at Kevin Spacey’s character in “American Beauty,” who comes home and tells his wife he quit his job, blackmailed his boss and asks her to please pass the asparagus. “Message: Hard work is for suckers and brainwashed, brain-dead drones,” Palin writes.
Palin praises “Juno,” the movie where a pregnant teen chooses to carry her baby. “Most Americans, I think, are a lot like Juno,” she writes — they may not be actively religious, “but they still want to do the right thing.” She also likes “Knocked Up,” in which a baby results from a one-night stand, and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
In her book Palin also:
—Criticizes Hollywood for putting out movies about Iraq that portray troops as “mindless pawns.”
—Says she admires Hillary Clinton, but that her “baking cookies” remarks sounded like “someone frozen in an attitude of 1960s-era, bra-burning militancy.”
—Says she helped deliver Bristol’s son, Tripp, and cut the cord, since the baby’s father, Levi Johnston, was not there until the end. Of her daughter’s unplanned teenage pregnancy, she says, “I assumed that Bristol was making only wise decisions while staying with my sister in Anchorage. I kick myself to this day for my selfish assumption. It was a mistake.” But she praises Bristol for the responsibility she has taken in raising Tripp, and in campaigning against teen pregnancy.
—In fact, she says that if she had to pick a role model between Bristol and Murphy Brown, the 1990s sitcom character who chose single motherhood as a lifestyle, she’d choose Bristol. As for Brown, she laments that former Vice President Dan Quayle’s criticism of the character essentially cost him the chance to be president. Quayle, she says, turned out to be right.
—Says Todd Palin is the love of her life — a partner in life, love, and doing battle with The New York Times. Also adds: “If you want to get anything done in this life, it’s helpful to have a First Dude.”
Palin will start a promotional tour next week for “America by Heart,” which is being published by HarperCollins. As with “Going Rogue,” she will not make appearances in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco or other cities usually included on book tours. She will spend little time on either coast, sticking mostly to the South, Southwest and Midwest.