Palin’s Missed Opportunity

Palin's "blood libel" speech continued to keep here in the conversation about Tucson, and not in a positive way.

To follow-up to my post from the other day, I would say that Palin’s “blood libel” video represents a missed opportunity.

Let me start by saying to the commenters who will not read the whole post before responding:  first, I think that charges that Palin has any kind of culpability in the actions of Loughner are absurd.  Second, I am not arguing that Palin could have used this opportunity to make the whole country love her.  I am not saying that Palin could have ingratiated herself with her opponents on the left.  What I am saying is that she could used the opportunity to show some grace and leadership skills.  I am saying that she could have also turned away a lot of the criticism that she has been facing on this topic.  And yes, she would have continued to face some criticism no matter what, but I think it is difficult to argue that she did anything other than add fuel to the fire.

The video continued Palin’s basic pattern in three keys ways.  First, it was highly controlled and came from the safe space that she has created for herself online.  Second, the message was one, primarily, of defensiveness.  Third, the basic content will resonate positively with her fans, who rightly feel that Palin’s target/surveyor’s symbol graphic has received undo and unfair attention but it will reinforce the negative attitudes that most non-fans have of her (including many of her co-partisans, which is the political key here).

The selection of the phrase “blood libel” is problematic on a variety of levels.  Even if, as Jim Geraghty noted, the phrase is used more commonly than we might think (and by a variety of persons from various points of view), it is a phrase that fairly obviously was going to lead to controversy, even if we set aside fro anti-Semitic history of the phrase.  It strikes me as rhetorically problematic to evoke the image of blood here from the get go, given the bloody events of the weekend.  Second, the evocation of libel simply underscores Palin’s defensiveness.  Combine the two and even if one was unaware of the history of the phrase it should have been obvious that the phrase was going to stir up at least a minor furor.

I continue not to understand why Palin couldn’t have taken the high road here and acknowledge that while trying to assign blame in regards to the target graphic is absurd, it is understandable how people find it objectionable in retrospect.  This is especially true since Representative Giffords had herself made recent public statements about said graphic and its implications.  Indeed, the very fact that SarahPAC took the graphic down from the website on Saturday is an acknowledgement that the somebody in the Palin camp understood that it was problematic.

If Palin does have real aspirations for the Republican nomination in 2012, she is going to have to learn to sublimate some of her defensive tendencies.  Fans may cheer when she strikes back, but there are times in politics (indeed, in real life) when such responses hit the wrong note and, indeed, may simply be inappropriate.  Now if, as some hypothesize, she simply wants to remain a media figure, the strategy will work for her.  Indeed, while I have maintained that she is planning to run in 2012, her behavior in this moment has caused me to question that assumption.

Further reading on this topic:

Politico:  Barack Obama takes opportunity Sarah Palin missed

The NYT’s The Caucus: Obama and Palin, a Tale of Two Speeches

FILED UNDER: Sarah Palin, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    It was a bizarre performance all around.

    The more I see of the “blood libel” thing, the more I think she was just parroting something she heard. I was listening to Tony Kornheiser on my way to work this morning and he confessed that, as a fairly well educated Jewish man, he had no idea what the original “blood libel” was until reading Ruth Marcus in the Post. Then again, since she’s so clearly stage managed, you think someone would have done some vetting.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Tsk, tsk…Steven and James, why do you hate poor Sarah so much?

  3. anjin-san says:

    > you think someone would have done some vetting.

    Well, you would have thought that when McCain was selecting a running mate too…

    At any rate, 5 minutes of research on Google seems like more than Palin’s staff can manage, and more than she demands of them. What a fine President she will make.

  4. Nikki says:

    I believe whoever wrote the speech picked it up from Glenn Reynolds’ WSJ op-ed. It was the first time I’d seen the phrase used in reference to the controversy. I guess they thought it would be a clever dog whistle.

  5. JKB says:

    It was probably inadvertent but this was brilliant. This whole disgusting attempt by the Left, the MSM and a good portion of the blogsphere to falsely link Palin to the Tucson travesty is now forever, tied to “blood libel.” Make no mistake, they would have brought it up again but now as soon as they do, the blood libel debate resumes. Watch, they are so stupid, it will be trotted out again if she looks like she’s running.

    Best of all, the Left, the MSM and a good portion of the blogsphere are the ones who tied the label like a noose around their attempt to smear Palin. The monkeys were going to swarm something no matter what she did. A good leader, gives them something to latch their teeth on but that is really nothing. She said “blood libel” and they swarmed and she mooted their hopes and dreams.

  6. jwest says:

    Steven,

    You still don’t understand.

    Sarah Palin is running for President, but not against Barack Obama. She is running against the MSM, who collectively have a public approval rating of 12%. Every time she can bring the unfair, lying by inference style of the media into focus, she wins over more of the independent women needed to take the general election.

    Any response other than the one she made, delivered in the manner it was, would be characterized by the media as an apology and admission of culpability. The media just realized (to their horror) that the shooter wasn’t a right-wing, Tea Party Palin supporter, and the backpedaling has been extraordinary. Palin is determined not to make the same mistakes Bush did, giving the left wing fodder through apologies on the Katrina response, “Mission Accomplished” and the fact that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger.

    The election in 2012 will be an opportunity for voters to voice their disapproval of one of the most despicable and hated institutions in the country. Palin’s strategy is brilliant.

  7. John425 says:

    The only “controversy” in this situation is created by the agenda-driven MSM and other leftist tools.
    Even the President denounced these methods last night and he is just a plain old community activist masquerading as an intellectual.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Why would Sarah Palin do this? See JKB’s comment.

    Her constituents are like her: not terribly bright. If she suddenly grew as a person she would lose her support. Not that I think for a minute that she’s capable of growth, but even if she were, it would be counter-productive.

    She’s an undigestible mass in the Republican gut. She won’t grow or mature or broaden or any of those things. She’ll remain just what she is. And she’ll keep her grip on the single largest segment of the Republican Party.

    Good luck with that in Iowa and South Carolina.

  9. @JKB: While there is little doubt that Palin is constantly running against the MSM, the bottom line remains that that is brilliant if what she wants to be in a media personality, it isn’t brilliant if she actually wants to win the GOP nomination, let alone the presidency.

  10. EddieInCA says:

    jwest –

    Not likely. Even among REPUBLICANS, Palin has a 20+ points nevative/positive approval rating. When you can’t even win over the members of your own party, you have no shot in a general election.

    As an Obama supporter, I hope, fervently hope, that Palin is the nominee.

    However, as a supporter of the USA, I hope she’s not. Even though I want Obama to win a 2nd term, I think the country deserves a better GOP Candidate than Sarah Palin. Perhaps a Mitch Daniels, or Chris Christie. You know, a grown up.

  11. DMan says:

    Like many, I chalk the “blood libel” thing up to ignorance. But in many ways it took away from what was a god awful speech overall. Steven nailed it, she was simply the same Palin we are accustomed to seeing. It just wasn’t an appropriate moment to take a defensive stance. For once Palin needed to ignore all the criticisms, step up and hit what was an easy home run (see Obama’ speech). She failed, and once again she left a shallow message that will only resonate with her supporters.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Steven:

    Your key mistake is assuming that she thinks. She’s a creature of instinct. Like a tapeworm.

  13. Smooth Jazz says:

    Terrific. Another left of center blog giving Gov Palin “advice”, when she has been the subject of visceral attacks since day 1 courtesy of the MS NBC/CNN/ABC/NYT/CBS/etc and JournOlista vortex. Let’s face facts: NOTHING SHE COULD HAVE DONE OR SAID COULD HAVE APPEASED LEFT WING BLOGGERS, THE MEDIA, AND ASSORTED OTHER RIFF RAFF CONSTANTLY BITING HER ANKLES. Give it a rest guys; She’ll disappear soon enough.

  14. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “Second, the message was one, primarily, of defensiveness”

    Considering that she was being accused of being responsible for this tragedy, is it surprising to you that it would be defensive? Sheesh!

  15. john personna says:

    There was an epic fail across the country in response to this. It’s easy to score. See again:

    Kohlberg’s stages of moral development

    At the top, number six, we have “Universal ethical principles” or “(Principled conscience).”

    We should state clearly that civil discussion is always superior to violent rhetoric, even when the latter “gets out the vote.”

    And we shouldn’t pretend that since a 1:1 cannot be proven between violent rhetoric and violent action there is no relation whatsoever. That is a sophistry, whether it is couched in 10 words or 10,000.

  16. wr says:

    Smooth Jazz — You’re right, nothing could change my mind about Palin, except possibly the discovery that she’s actually a bit of performance art by Joaquin Phoenix. But I’m well aware that there are lots of people out there who currently have vaguely negative feelings about the ex-gov, and that they are probably available to be turned around — these are people who liked her once, but have soured since, even if they’re not exactly sure why.

    That’s why this moment was so important to Palin. She could have made herself look big in a way she never has. She could have been gracious and serious and even suggested that maybe the discourse is a little rough, even though heavens knows nobody means anything by it, and that we should all work together, etc.

    Instead, she did the poor-me, I’m a victim schtick again, and all those people who couldn’t remember why they stopped liking her got a big reminder…

  17. ponce says:

    “I continue not to understand why Palin couldn’t have taken the high road here and acknowledge that while trying to assign blame in regards to the target graphic is absurd, it is understandable how people find it objectionable in retrospect. ”

    To repeat myself, wingnuts always double down on the crazy, always.

    And now America thinks she’s either and anti-Semite or an idiot.

  18. @Smooth Jazz: please read the second paragraph of my post again.

  19. Also, I really would be interested in how anything in this post could be accurately defined as “left,” “center-left” or, for that matter “right” or “center-right.”

  20. Wayne says:

    The problem isn’t Palin but all those irrational people who hate her.

  21. Tlaloc says:

    “To repeat myself, wingnuts always double down on the crazy, always.”

    It’s basically this but to expand on it the extreme right has manufactured a persona that is based on a sense of a rabid victim lashing out at others who are even slightly different. The xenophobia is defining. This is not the conservativism of Buckley, which was pretty vile , but which had an intellectual core to it. This is pure reactionism. Everyone is either part of them or literally evil. Even fellow republicans that are strong voters for issues the conservatives espouse will be turned on with any perceived slight. It’s pretty much pathological, and it’s why you see the extreme right go through these cycles of a figure brought up as the sum total hopes of the conservatives and then just as quickly abandoned as a weak rino.

    It happened with Scott Brown, with Cantor, with dozens of others. The only way to avoid it for a conservative pol is to always push harder and harder right, mindlessly. Sarah’s doing just that, and she can get away with it so long as she’s a celebrity and not a politician trying to get a plurality of voters.

    All of which is the long winded version of ponce’s statement above.

  22. jwest says:

    Speaking of missed opportunities…….

    Why didn’t Obama rise above partisan politics and use the memorial service to call out the MSM for jumping to the conclusion that Loughner was a right-wing extremist driven to political assassination by talk radio and Sarah Palin?

    He could have added 20 points to his personal approval rating by creating a Sister Souljah moment. Instead, he provided cover for his allies in the media.

    Obama said we shouldn’t use this occasion to turn on each other, however the media turned on the right before the bodies were even cold. Missed opportunity? Right sentiment, wrong person.

  23. mattt says:

    I still think Palin’s speechwriter knew exactly the historical meaning of “blood libel.”

    “The white man is the Jew of Liberal Fascism,” after all.
    http://www.nationalreview.com/liberal-fascism/203255/white-man-jew-liberal-fascism

  24. wr says:

    Jwest — This may be hard for a Palinite to understand, but you can’t say this is no time to turn on each other — and then turn on any group. The whole point was that attacking each other is wrong — if add to that “and by the way, these guys turned on those guys, so these guys suck,” then you’re just down in the mud.

    Which is why people are laughing at Palin right now — she did exactly what you want Obama to do, and she looks like a nasty, selfish shrew.

  25. Sandy says:

    I really appreciate this post. You captured so well what I thought about the video. Let’s just look at this simply from a PR perspective and put our heated political attitudes aside:

    When a slew of people are gunned down outside of a Safeway, Sarah Palin’s response should not revolve around Sarah Palin, no matter what accusations are flying around about her. I think it was around 1:36 in the video where Palin changed the conversation from the victims to herself. Her “heartfelt” words about the victims sounded canned, extremely insincere, and like a hoop she had to jump through before her me, me, me talk.

    Yes, there are many accusations against her, yes she chose to defend herself against them. But the smartest PR maneuver – regardless of the validity or falseness of the accusations – would have been to take the high road. It would have spoken volumes about her ability to rise to the occasion of putting a public incident above her self image. Instead, she could only forcefully say ‘I love America god damn it’. She would have really shown her love had she been able to have just one media performance where she focuses on the good of the country instead of on her party and her shtick.

  26. mantis says:

    I think it’s important that we always remember the biggest victim in the Tucson shootings: Sarah Palin.

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***At any rate, 5 minutes of research on Google***Would show you how stupid and disgusting and delusional liberals truly are…..

  28. Highlander says:

    Oh, she is such and insignificant prole of a person!

    Why do you insist on bring this woman up to us over and over again!

  29. Alex Knapp says:

    I read an article earlier today, I forget where, that analogized Palin’s video to somebody who gets mad at you for missing her birthday party because your daughter was in the hospital. I think that about sums it up.

  30. From the headline I assumed you were channeling Dominique de Villepin.

    She is certainly not the sharpest or most graceful tool in the box, but how well would you react to so many claims that you incited these murders? Sarah Palin is in a “damned if you, do damned if you don’t” predicament no matter what she does.

  31. ponce says:

    “She is certainly not the sharpest or most graceful tool in the box, but how well would you react to so many claims that you incited these murders? ”

    She might have waited until the service to honor her main accuser was over.

    Let’s face it, the ditz timed the release of her horrendous little screed to steal some of the limelight from the service.

    That it backfired and made even more Americans point and laugh at her is an entirely fitting punishment.

    Palin is a terrible human being.

  32. Adrian says:

    As an east-european citizen I am amazed of the passion of politics in the USA But I tink it is a good thing for democracy that many people feel the need to get involved in politics But what I can’t understand (for the american politics as we are seeing it from here ) is the need for totalitarism im politics If somebody disagree with my point of vue he becomes a leftist ( an communist in the 1950) and a liberal (an unortodox in Salem) or worse a monkey (see it in a cooment ) from the other part he is either a fascist, either a simpleminded . I More respect for the others point of vue will lead to a better politics and to a better way to find answers to solve the problems that are facing USA not only in the world but especially home . Even if I can be considered as a moderate leftist I hate the black or white, good or bad policy wich can lead to extremes that can become a threat to democracy Friendly yours

  33. andrew says:

    “She might have waited until the service to honor her main accuser was over.”

    LOL. If she had waited a couple of days then you would have complained that she was interjecting herself into something that was already old news.

  34. She might have waited until the service to honor her main accuser was over.

    And let the lies fester? Kind of like the page 1 bold headline followed by a small page 16 retraction a week later isn’t it? I don’t understand the hostility, after all it was Obama who counselled to punch back twice as hard.

    Hurts, doesn’t it?

  35. mantis says:

    I don’t understand the hostility

    Perhaps a psychologist could help you?

  36. sam says:

    @Adrian

    But what I can’t understand (for the american politics as we are seeing it from here ) is the need for totalitarism im politics If somebody disagree with my point of vue he becomes a leftist ( an communist in the 1950) and a liberal (an unortodox in Salem) or worse a monkey (see it in a cooment ) from the other part he is either a fascist, either a simpleminded .

    Adrian, this kind of stuff has been going on this country since the very beginning of the country. It’s how we do politics here. Always has been. It’s a bit nastier now than in recent memory, but there’s nothing, I repeat, nothing unusual about it. In fact, at its nastiest, our current politics comes nowhere near the American politics of the early 1800s, in, say, the election of 1800, the United States’ first presidential election. Now there was some ferocious politics.

    Also, and this is important, if I were you, I wouldn’t take too seriously the invective that’s thrown around on blogs, or on radio, or on television. Most of us, when we stand back a bit, realize that this is just the wonderful, if sometimes wince-inducing, noisiness of our democracy. If American politics can be likened to music, think of it as a gorgeous ongoing jazz symphony, spontaneous with the calls and responses of a deeply passionate, deeply patriotic, deeply opinionated people.

  37. john personna says:

    Charles, I am hardly a political genius, but it seems trivial what Palin had to do:

    1) This is a awful tragedy and my heart goes out …
    2) We should all pull together and remember what America is about …
    3) We may play hardball politics at times but we in no way endorse actual violence …

    Easy. Now, as I’ve said above, I actually consider #3 to be a little bit of a cheat, because there is some fractional (not large) responsibility when “hard ball politics” gets too close to violent symbolism, but she obviously could have made #3 fly. People would have given her that benefit.

  38. john personna says:

    On #3 above I can say that I don’t doubt that Palin only thought she was playing hardball politics, and that she didn’t really understand the deeper moral dimension.

    What does that mean? Less guilty by reason of moral shallowness?

  39. john personna, I call bullshit. What Palin had to do? Are you kidding?

    As evidenced in these threads over and over again, whatever Sarah Palin does she will be criticized for it. In fact, people seem to be more upset that she dared to defend herslef and fight back. Well, too bad.

    FWIW, I haven’t seen whatever it was she said, because I don’t care about what she has to say about it all that much. But I am appalled by all those who seem to think she is at fault, before, during or after this event. I read the earlier threads that were filled with “yeah, but…” and found them despicable.

    If you had said one goddamned word about all the violent symbolism from the left the last few years, perhaps I could stomach your concerns better. As it is, well, I can’t.

  40. john personna says:

    I meant “had” to do in a political sense mostly. But it is also a higher morality than “me versus them.”

    If you had said one goddamned word about all the violent symbolism from the left the last few years, perhaps I could stomach your concerns better. As it is, well, I can’t.

    There was a time when violence from the left was a serious threat. The Weathermen. The SLA. All those Italians.

    That was a long time ago.

    What have you really got in today’s America that I should worry about?

  41. sam says:

    “If you had said one goddamned word about all the violent symbolism from the left the last few years”

    Stop it, you’re breaking my heart. Truthfully now Charles, has anyone on the “left” been as vicious, and more public with his viciousness, than Rush? And I’m pretty sure we could find lesser Rush’s on talk radio all across this fair land. Be honest now.

  42. john personna says:

    BTW, I did call out that knucklehead who just a few days ago posted in this thread with a “please die” in his little icon image.

  43. michael reynolds says:

    If I may I will explain my own hostility.

    Its not about issues per se. Mike Huckabee has essentially the same positions. But I don’t despise Huckabee. I’ll tease Huckabee or argue with Huckabee or roll my eyes at Huckabee or even call him the Huckabuffoon. But I don’t think he’s a creep.

    The difference is authenticity.

    I believe Huckabee believes what he’s saying. And I think as off-base as he is, Huckabee is not a bad person.

    I don’t think Palin even knows what she’s saying. I don’t believe a word that issues from her mouth. I think she’s a fraud from top to bottom. I don’t think she’s spent eight seconds thinking about anything other than Sarah Palin. She’s a vacuous, ruthless, self-aggrandizing, stupid little fake without a moral center or an idea. And she has no interest in bettering herself. She glories in her own ignorance. She’s the TV spokesmodel for sheer, determined ignorance. She champions stupidity as though it was a prime virtue.

    Before anyone decides it’s a gender thing? I respect Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson. I respect Democrat Diane Feinstein. I respect Hillary. Each of them is a genuine human being. Palin is not. Palin is a creep.

    But I will say this: she is the perfect representative of the slimy, gay-bashing, race-baiting ignoramus wing of the GOP. It’s a perfect match.

  44. An Interested Party says:

    “I don’t understand the hostility, after all it was Obama who counselled to punch back twice as hard.

    Hurts, doesn’t it?”

    Doesn’t hurt much at all…if you want to play by those kind of rules, it was on Palin’s webpage, not the president’s, that Giffords was in the crosshairs…

    “But I am appalled by all those who seem to think she is at fault, before, during or after this event.”

    And to act as if anyone, outside of those on the fringe, is directly blaming Sarah Palin for what Jared Loughner did is quite appaling…

  45. mantis says:

    after all it was Obama who counselled to punch back twice as hard.

    Actually, an anonymous source said that Jim Messina said that. But, you know, facts aren’t important to the right, so I can understand that you don’t care.

  46. PJ says:

    @charles austin:
    “As evidenced in these threads over and over again, whatever Sarah Palin does she will be criticized for it.”

    And Obama can for some people do or say anything and always be criticized.

    But the people who criticize both of them for everything aren’t those that can be won, it’s the people between them. It was them that she could have influenced with a better speech. And if I’m not wrong, it was them that this post was about.

  47. John Personna: What have you really got in today’s America that I should worry about?

    SEIU thugs beating up people opposed to Obamacare with impunity.

    Black Panthers intimidating voters with impunity.

    Deficit spending accelerating.

    The government and the media trying to stifle any opposition via speech codes, “hate” speech, or implying responsibility for insane murderers.

    A refusal by the political class to address systemic problems with public unions and public pensions.

    A lack of open, transparent government. Say, where did all that TARP money go?

    Lawless government at the highest level stealing assets from legitimate assets from debtors to reward their union freinds.

    I could go on, but what’s the point?

  48. john personna says:

    Can you throw any links to support this “beating up people” “with impunity” stuff?

    (From “Deficit spending accelerating” on down you are just talking about politics. You need to be careful to link to actual violence or violent rhetoric, and not make a laundry list of things unrelated, ie. “where did all that TARP money go?”)

  49. john personna says:

    (Black Panthers really are something else I stopped worrying about after the 70’s.)

  50. anjin-san says:

    > Lawless government at the highest level stealing assets from legitimate assets from debtors to reward their union freinds.

    About 15 billion dollars in US taxpayer cash (yes cash) simply vanished into thin air in Iraq when Bush was at the helm. Perhaps you could share a few posts you made expressing outrage over that…

    > Can you throw any links to support this “beating up people” “with impunity” stuff?

    Second that.

  51. anjin-san says:

    > Black Panthers intimidating voters with impunity.

    Dude, I used to live in East Oak. A few wannabes in leather are not “Black Panthers”. That folks on the right wet themselves over this is beyond laughable.

  52. JKB says:

    Flemington, NJ, January 14, 2011 – A new national study among 1,437 self-reported Democrats, Republicans and Independents revealed that Americans indicated that Sarah Palin was more sincere and believable after viewing her speech in response to the shootings in Tucson.