Sarah Palin's bold moral leadership (yes, of course it's meant sarcastically)
Sarah Palin decided that she needed to make a longer statement than she initially did reflecting the general Republican line that they are going to keep saying any crazy things they like and if people get murdered occasionally by other who take their crazy talk to heart, well, so what?
President Reagan said, "We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions." Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.
The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country's future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.
But as Stephen Colbert and other have noticed, while she here seemingly denies that political rhetoric could have motivated the Tucson shooter in any way whatsoever, in the "blood libel" portion of her statement, the White Princess firmly insisted that political rhetoric (directed against her!) actually could produce violence:
Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible. [my emphasis]
Do words have consequences or not? For Palin, it seems, acts of criminality stand alone; yet in the very next sentence she goes on to assert the opposite: that the "journalists and pundits" who want our political rhetoric toned down, and who've criticized her image of Rep. Giffords and others caught in the "crosshairs," are themselves manufacturing a "blood libel" that may well "incite...violence." So language can manufacture a "blood libel" and incite violence yet she can be so sure that it played no role in motivating a gunman?
Despite that screaming contradiction, much of Palin's statement will sound plausible to a lot of people who have heard our TV pundits carrying on a superficial chatter about "civility" in politics. But her speech doesn't counteract the ugly trend on display in the assassination attack in Tucson last Saturday.
There are ways for politicians to tell people on "their side" to dial it back on rhetoric and actions that are wrong or counterproductive. In Oakland a couple of years ago when the young African-American man Oscar Grant by shot by the transit policeman Johannes Mehserle, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the case last year, even though Mehserle had the unarmed guy down on the ground and shot him in the back. There were protests in downtown Oakland immediately after the shooting and they escalated to breaking windows and scuffling with the police. Although there were no assassinations involved in that mini-riot, Oakland Mayor Rom Dellums, an African-American Democrat who had called himself a "socialist" when he was in Congress, publicly and clearly denounced the violence. He expressed his own concerns about Grant's death and Mehserle's conduct, clearly affirmed the right to protest over it, and worked with community leaders to channel future protests into non-violent avenues. In other words, a political leader who recognizes an ugly and dangerous trend can clearly condemn it and do something about it. Even when there might be a risk of angering some of his own constituency over it.
Sarah Palin isn't likely to be telling any rightwingers to dial it back, even after this latest in a series of escalating far-right political violence. It would take quite an imagination to read any such clear denunciation of political violence into Sarah Palin's "blood libel" statement. On the contrary, the part of her statement quoted above that begins "There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act ..." seems to be denying that political rhetoric can ever contribute to inciting violence. But given her long association with the Alaska Independence Party and other far-right political and extreme religious people, I have to assume that she knows very well the effect incendiary rhetoric and paranoid conspiracy theories have on some of the loose screws who are attracted to such groups.
It's really reached a bad state of affairs when political leaders like Palin can't say straightforwardly: there's no reason to murder people! And I don't condone such talk or actions in any way! Given that Republicans like Sharon Angle have been talking this past year about "Second Amendment solutions" against elected officials they don't like, even a general statement like that from Palin might have some positive effects. Even if she didn't cop to her mistakes in using explicit gun language and symbols in targeting Giffords last year.
For Democratic elected officials, I think they are being foolish about their own personal safety at this point if they frame the current problem of perceived liberals being targeted for deadly violence as coming from "both sides". But you would think Palin herself would show some practical concern in that regard. After all, the guys who shot George Wallace and President Reagan really were more the "lone nut" type without particular political views (unless we count Jodie Foster obsession as "political"). But they shot prominent conservatives. You have to wonder why she thought she had a Secret Service detail during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Conservatives on this issue, including Palin and her good buddy Franklin Graham, are trying to treat the moral responsibility of leadership as though it were equivalent to legal responsibility for acts of violence. That won't prevent the rest of us from judging their leadership by how they've dealt with the Tucson assassination attack, which as you have noted here, is one in a series of such attacks directed at perceived liberals the last three years.
Joan Walsh, in an article that includes the overoptimistic hope expressed in its title, Sarah Palin will never be presidentSalon 01/11/2011, accurately characterizes Palin's "blood libel" statement on Wednesday:
The narcissism required, on a day the nation is commemorating the Arizona shooting victims, to put her own sense of victimhood front and center, is stunning. The "blood libel" idiocy may be the worst of it, especially given that Giffords herself is Jewish. But that's not the only thing wrong with her performance. Hilariously, after all the times she's mocked President Obama for using a teleprompter, you can see a teleprompter screen reflected in her eyeglasses throughout much of her Facebook chat. Seeing the flickering teleprompter in her eyes is eerie; it's where some flicker of her soul should be, but you don't see any. Looking into Palin's eyes, you see a blazing, self-pitying anger that's shocking, even for the self-described "pit bull in lipstick." [my emphasis]
You don't have to look into her eyes to see it. It's clear from the transcript, too.