Sarah Palin Blasts Media For “Blood Libel” Against Her Over Arizona Shootings
Sarah Palin released a statement today about the Arizona shootings and the debate that has followed. It's unlikely to help her.
After several days of relative silence in the face of criticism of her and others over “heated rhetoric” and the shootings in Arizona, Sarah Palin took to her Facebook page this morning to mostly blast the media
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) released a statement Wednesday morning denouncing efforts to blame her for Saturday’s Tucson shooting rampage.
“Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance,” Palin said in a lengthy statement posted on her Facebook page. “After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.”
Palin called efforts to attribute blame for the shooting “reprehensible,” saying that “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.”
Without naming him, Palin alluded to Rep. Robert Brady’s (D-Pa.) plan to propose legislation that would make it a federal crime to use language or images that could be interpreted as inciting violence toward members of Congress or federal officials, saying the legislation “would criminalize speech [Brady] found offensive.”
“It is in the hour when our values are challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values,” Palin said. “Recall how the events of 9-11 challenged our values and we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security. And so it is today.”
On the whole, I thought that Palin’s statement was fairly good given the circumstances, but her use of the term “blood libel” is likely to become a huge controversy:
Palin’s use of the charged phrase “blood libel” – which refers to the anti-Semitic accusation from the Middle Ages that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh for Passover – touched off an immediate backlash.
“The blood libel is something anti-Semites have historically used in Europe as an excuse to murder Jews – the comparison is stupid. Jews and rational people will find it objectionable,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic political consultant and devout Jew. “This will forever link her to the events in Tucson. It deepens the hole she’s already dug for herself… It’s absolutely inappropriate.”
To be fair to Palin, the “blood libel” characterization did not originate with her. Glenn Reynolds wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal on Monday titled The Arizona Tragedy And The Politics Of Blood Libel, and John Hawyard had a column at Townhall yesterday titled The Giffords Blood Libel Will Fail. However, people aren’t going to focus on what Glenn Reynolds and some guy at TownHall said, they’re going to focus on Sarah Palin, and I’ve got to wonder if Palin really helped herself by picking up such an emotionally charged phrase and using it to portray herself as a victim when the real tragedy is the six dead and 14 wounded people in Arizona. To me, it seems like she is once again playing the victim, something that her supporters will sympathize with but which is unlikely to have much of an impact outside the bubble of Palin Fandom.
Palin’s statement is unlikely to move the needle on public opinion about her in any significant way. Her supporters will love it and will cheer her for standing up to “media bullies. Her critics will use it to criticize her, whether about the “blood libel” comment or something else. And an perusal of the early reaction confirms this.
Mistermix at Balloon Juice doesn’t see anything new:
She claims that debate now is more civil than back when there were duels, and says we can’t be stopped by those who seek to “muzzle dissent by shrill cries of imagined insults”. And, haters, take note: we’re better than “mindless fingerpointing”. When Sarah points her finger, as she does many times in this video, she wants you to know that her mind is fully engaged.
Palin’s toned-down appearance and scripted delivery show that she wants to adopt the appearance of reasonableness, but the message is more-or-less unchanged. The setting is presidential, but the message is classic Palin, lashing back at her critics. She was clearly hoping to show “gravitas”, but that’s more than set dressing.
Ed Morrissey is more complimentary, and thinks Palin said exactly what she needed to in this circumstance:
Palin does an excellent job in making her point without lashing out in anger over the attacks, and underscores the importance of personal responsibility rather than group guilt in a free society, the priority of free speech as an underpinning of democracy, and the determination of Palin and the rest of the conservatives to defend those principles. It’s precisely what Palin needed to say, and precisely the manner and forum in which she needed to say it.
Jonathan Capehart says that the statement shows that Palin doesn’t get it:
Sarah Palin has emerged from the protective cloak of Twitter and e-mails to Glenn Beck to speak directly to the American people about the tragedy in Tucson. In a video, she expresses condolences for the victims’ families and concern for those recovering from Saturday’s horrific events. But for nearly eight defensive minutes, the woman who has been at the center of a stormy national debate over our super-heated political discourse does her best to absolve herself of any role in that discourse.
Yes, as people grappled to make sense of what happened in Tucson, many leapt to early conclusions and pointed fingers before having any facts. Palin is right to bemoan such knee-jerk reactions. But, as I wrote on Monday, that there is no connection between alleged murderer Jared Loughner and the extremes of the Tea Party movement is beside the point. We, as a nation, are finally talking about the troubling tone and tenor of our political discourse over the last two years.
Palin is having none of it.
Like I said, Palin’s words will convince nobody who isn’t already convinced, and I’m not sure that they’re really going to help her all that much if we continue down the road toward a debate about whether the political climate in this country has become too confrontational and vitriolic.
For those of you without Facebook access, here is the full text of Palin’s statement:
Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims. No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims’ families as we express our sympathy.
I agree with the sentiments shared yesterday at the beautiful Catholic mass held in honor of the victims. The mass will hopefully help begin a healing process for the families touched by this tragedy and for our country.
Our exceptional nation, so vibrant with ideas and the passionate exchange and debate of ideas, is a light to the rest of the world. Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange ideas that day, to celebrate our Republic’s core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.
There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.
Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.
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.
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.
There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.
As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.
No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.
Just days before she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords read the First Amendment on the floor of the House. It was a beautiful moment and more than simply “symbolic,” as some claim, to have the Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just “symbolic.” But less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive.
It is in the hour when our values are challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values. Recall how the events of 9-11 challenged our values and we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security. And so it is today.
Let us honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded. And let us pray for our country. In times like this we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides. We need strength to not let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves, or weaken our solid foundation, or provide a pretext to stifle debate.
America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner, and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country. May God bless America.
– Sarah Palin
UPDATE (James Joyner): While my initial reaction to this, perhaps owing to confirmation bias, was that this was yet more evidence that Sarah Palin is a nincompoop, Jim Geraghty has a compelling roundup of relatively famous people, many of whom are not widely considered dolts, who have made use of the “blood libel” term in equally or more egregious ways: Andrew Sullivan, Eugene Robinson, Peter Deutsch, Jed Babbin, Michael Barone, Andrew Cohen, Alex Beam, and John Derbyshire.
The examples date from 2003 through 2009 and I don’t offhand recall any firestorm over the practice before now.