It's an accessory you can't miss, and Sarah Palin knows it: a glossy, brown fur shoulder bag she fondly strokes while waiting for a photo shoot to begin. In Manhattan to kick off the book tour for her new memoir Going Rogue: An American Life
, "I wanted a touch of Alaska," she explains. The purse, called a Possibilities Bag, was made by some friends back home. "It's otter. They hunt it, they eat it, they make a bag." Why the name? "A man gives it to his wife," Palin says with a playful lift of her eyebrows, "and then he has possibilities."
Possibilities. The word ricochets around her as she suddenly appears everywhere: talking Thanksgiving plans on Oprah
, signing books during a cross-country bus tour, refusing to comment on would-have-been-son-in-law Levi Johnston's plan to file for joint custody of her grandson Tripp. But just what hers are is a question that her book—in stores almost exactly a year after President Obama's election and four months after her own surprise resignation from Alaska's governorship—never makes quite clear. While Rogue
, for which she received a reported $5 million advance, hits many notes, it does not address whether the woman who could have been a heartbeat from the Presidency will ever run for political office again. "I don't know," she tells People during a chatty 45-minute interview at a New York City hotel, when asked. "There are a lot of shackles when you are in an elected position. So if I believe it's best for my family and country that I assist minus those shackles, then I will go down that path." She sounds perfectly content when she adds, "I do my work from a kitchen table now."
What's clear is that she'll continue to make her voice heard—even though she admits its high-pitched twang has made anonymous sightseeing with daughters Willow, 15, and Piper, 8, who are with her on tour, virtually impossible. ("Just don't talk," a reporter jokingly suggests, to which Palin's aide replies, "You sound like someone from the McCain campaign.") "I refuse to sit down and shut up as they wanted," Palin says, referring to her opponents. "Like my dad said when I resigned as governor," she says, "'Somebody thinks you're a quitter? You're not retreating, you're reloading.'"
Her book, of course, takes plenty of shots. In it she blames McCain operatives for being mercenaries who tried to overpackage and overscript her, and claims that the statement the campaign released about Bristol's pregnancy included wording she had specifically vetoed. "It said, 'We're happy to become grandparents,'" she says. "Whoa! We should have seized that opportunity to say, 'Teen pregnancy is a problem.'"
About that disastrous interview with Katie Couric, she accuses Couric of partisan motives and biased editing. "Her political views obviously were going to bleed over into her questioning," she says.
Yet the book isn't all score-settling, and Palin says her time out of office has been devoted as much to family as to reflecting on the '08 campaign and plotting her next move. With $1.25 million from her book advance already in the bank, she and husband Todd are adding on to their five-bedroom home on Wasilla's Lake Lucille, building a shop for Todd to work on his snowmachines and small plane. With more time together since he quit his job on the North Slope in September, the couple are "doing a lot of housework and yard work. Those are our date nights. Just these frugal, practical things we've always done."
They're also sharing the challenges of raising 1½-year-old Trig, their son who has Down syndrome. Trig has yet to speak or eat solid foods, but "he is just so cool," says Palin, breaking into a grin. "He knows he has us wrapped around his little finger." The family has all learned sign language and Trig signs for "milk." Palin admits that she aches to hear "Mama," but right now she is teaching Trig to sign, "I love you." He and their grandson Tripp—Bristol's 11-month-old son with ex-boyfriend Levi—are "growing up more like brothers," she says. Tripp, who already says some words, still shares a bedroom with Bristol, 19, who is taking college business courses and working at a doctor's office with hopes of opening her own coffee shop.
"She's got her hands full, but she's very strong," says her mom. Levi, Bristol's ex, posed for Playgirl
earlier this month. Palin says she's proud of her daughter's determination to "take the high road when it comes to the controversy with Levi and him doing his porn stuff. She knows she has to pull even more weight to make sure Tripp has a good upbringing." Palin blames Levi's handlers for horrible decisions. "I feel sorry for him. He's kind of a lost soul right now."
Before leaving on a book-signing tour that will buzz her through two dozen cities in half as many days, Palin reflects briefly on why she's become such a lightning rod. "I don't know, because I'm so common," she says, "like any other mom out there who loves her children more than anything else in the world—with an extra dose of patriotism and concern for America." With or without political office, she has a very full life, and that, she says, may be the best revenge. "There's a toast that Todd and I love: 'May we always be happy, and may our enemies know it!'"