Sarah Palin’s Tucson Video

As I was apparently the only Jew handy during a blizzard that dumped 14-18″ of snow in the Boston area, I was asked to comment on whether Sarah Palin’s video (youtube) regarding the Tucson shootings was offensive. Here’s my analysis

  • 30 seconds: “our exceptional country, so vibrant with ideas” … “a light to the rest of the world”; The rest of the world doesn’t seem to be in a rush to copy our political system. Most democracies are parliamentary. Do we have better or more ideas per capita than other countries? Certainly we’ve had more per-capita wealth for implementing those ideas, but where is the evidence that we’re more creative than everyone else on the planet?
  • 60 seconds: “inexcusable … evil man took lives”; is there any evidence that the killer himself wants to be excused? Certainly nobody else has come forward to say “I think what Jared Loughner did was reasonable under the circumstances”
  • 1:24: “spent the last few days… praying for guidance”; if God helped out with this video, I would have hoped that He could have varied the camera angle a little (yes, I know that I’ve done some equally lame work for my helicopter stuff, but my production budget is lower than Ms. Palin’s)
  • 2:40: “Obama would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process” [based on there being some turnover of seats in every election]; contrary to Ms. Palin’s statement, it is extremely difficult for an incumbent Representative to be voted out of office. Congressmen and women choose their voters by rearranging districts; voters do not choose Congressmen in most cases. If the vulnerability of incumbents is a measure of political health, as Ms. Palin suggests, we’re not in the best condition.
  • 3:31: “journalists should not manufacture a blood libel”; analyzed separately below
  • 6:20: “it is in the hour when our values are challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values”; this has been a very common sentiment expressed in Supreme Court opinions, e.g., when FDR was advocating throwing out the Constitution in order to deal with perceived emergencies during the Depression and World War II. The government would say “we need to regulate all of this stuff that has nothing to do with interstate commerce because of the crisis” or “we need to intern more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans without a trial because they might be a risk”. The sentiment is almost always in the dissenting opinion, with the majority agreeing with the government that the crisis trumps whatever freedoms people had formerly thought the Constitution gave them.
  • 6:30 “we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security [after 9/11]”; Did we win this fight while I was waiting in the security line at Logan for my new X-ray scan?
  • 6:55: “we need God’s guidance”; this seems like a bad way to deal with criminal justice or politics since people of different religions will get different guidance from God, at least to judge by what is written down in the world’s various sacred texts. A Jain, for example, would surely not hear divine voices telling him to invade another country, execute a convicted criminal, or do a lot of the other stuff that our government does.
  • end of video impression: Palin’s face looks remarkably square (maybe it always looks like this? I haven’t seen any of her other videos and did not watch any TV coverage of the 2008 campaign (since I predicted Obama’s victory back on December 12, 2007))

Was Palin’s use of “blood libel” offensive to me or other Jews? Was it a reasonable analogy? Wikipedia notes that an unexplained murder in Norwich was blamed on the Jews. Palin was discussing an unexplained group of murders (probably nobody other than Jared Loughner will ever know the real reason) and how some journalists were blaming it on people who’ve made statements opposing Democratic Party initiatives.

Personal conclusion: Not offensive and perhaps the most accurate and sensible part of the video.

[Separately, I’m trying not to look at any news about this incident because it would be too sad to think about a 9-year-old girl dying, even if she were the only victim. According to some historians, Stephen Foster wrote Gentle Annie (lyrics; Marilyn Horne singing) after the death of a young girl in a carriage accident. For those of us who lack such talent, what purpose can be served by reflecting on the sad events of last weekend?]

15 thoughts on “Sarah Palin’s Tucson Video

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks “blood libel” is not offensive. To me it’s a pretty apt comparison, and typical of Palin’s ability to create memorable analogies and turns of phrase. Certainly I don’t think Jews have any exclusive rights to use, or approve the use of, the phrase. And while Palin’s rhetoric is often overblown, this doesn’t mean anything she says is automatically offensive.

    It has to be said that Obama really stepped up to the plate with his speech. Not much of a president, but the guy can give an incredible speech now and again.

    Between Tucson and Brisbane there have been far too many stories of kids dying recently. All you can do, I suppose, is treasure the kids in your own life.

  2. For those who wish to be immersed in an incredibly moving Stephen Foster tune apropos to so many things today, check out the Mavis Staples version of Hard Times Come Again No More

    It is difficult to avoid the excess of media assault about the tragedy, but I recommend reading about Heidi the cross eyed opossum or doing a facebook search for smiley samoyed pics.

    Peace, love, and cheese fries,

  3. I personally didn’t find it overly offensive, from a Jewish perspective, but I did find it somewhat unsettling from a different, but related, one.

    Surely Ms. Palin must have known that some Jews, and people in general, would have found it offensive. “Blood Libel” is a term with strong historical connotations, indeed it has been used as justification for the massacres and mass expulsions of Jews throughout history. So, on a day when many people were clearly upset, why would Ms. Palin use a term that would, without question, offend? As far as I can tell, the only answer is, “to grab headlines.” Coupled with the tone of her speech, swapping between defensive and accusatory, and strongly political, this seems to say that, on a day when the nation was clearly looking for sympathetic public figures*, Ms. Palin went out of her way to make the debate sharper, not softer.

    *I do consider Sarah Palin to be a public figure. Though not (nor ever has been) a member of the Federal government, there is no question she plays a strong role in our public discourse and even policy making process.

  4. Joshua: The “blood libel” term was buried in the middle of the video to the point that I had to go back and listen a second time to catch it. It seems doubtful that she expected that one phrase to be what folks picked out from 8 minutes of video. How would someone from Wasilla, Alaska know what Jews were likely to find offensive? There aren’t that many Jews in Alaska and the ones I’ve met weren’t easily offended.

    [The more I think about it, the more confused I am as to how this story turned out to be about Sarah Palin.]

  5. Phil,

    Can’t say I agree with you, but I see where I’m coming from. It seems like Palin was using the dog whistle idea to target the message, to me.

    Where I really have to disagree is your assertion that you’re confused as to how this became about Palin. That’s exactly what she wanted to happen, and, in my opinion, is why she used the “blood libel” terminology. She wanted to grab headlines, so she did something that would get the pundits talking about her.

    That’s the offensive part, to me.

  6. Joshua: Specifically, though, how did this become about Sarah Palin? Did she stuck her head up in Alaska and say “I am connected to the rampage in Tucson”? It doesn’t seem likely that she would have wanted to associate herself with sad deaths and horrifying injuries. After all, politicians are elected primarily on the basis of whether they can make voters feel good about themselves, the country, and the future.

  7. Phil,

    Well, after all the crosshairs commentary, she was a part of the media narrative anyway. For those of you not aware, she had a map on her website of “targeted districts” of Representatives she wanted defeated in 2010, marking each one with a bullseye icon over each congressional district. Representative Giffords was one of them, and was one of the few who was reelected. A number of “anonymous Democratic aides” were pushing the line that using the bullseye icon somehow influenced the shooter towards violence.

    So, given that she was being portrayed in either a neutral or negative light already, in relation to the shooting, someone in her camp must have decided that she had to have a more proactive role in shaping her imagine in regards to the shooting.

    It seems pretty stupid to me that she was brought up in the first place, as the bullseye symbol seems more or less fine to me, if a bit blunt, but she had become a part of the story well before giving the speech.

  8. Joshua,

    The maps with crosshair images that Sarah Palin used were of Districts (actually a map of the US with certain Districts targeted), not of Representatives. I know you said that, but then you say that “Representative Giffords was one of them” as if there were images of Representatives with crosshairs. There were not. On the other hand, the left wing site Daily Kos did use Representative Giffords image with a bullseye target. Both images can be seen here (scroll down):

    Bottom line is that “targeting the opposition” is language that has been used by politicians and businessmen for a long time. It had nothing to do with the shooting.

  9. Thanks for helping to shed light on this topic Phil. We really don’t need to stir up the emotional response any more than it already is. I always look forward to the rational perspective hashed out in this blog.

  10. My best guess is that Ms. Palin (and/or her speechwriters) was unaware of the full meaning and connotation of the phrase “blood libel.” It merely seemed a suitable phrase to arouse her base of worshipers against the Evil Libs who would dare to propose an invidious connection between a gruesome murder and appropriate rhetoric meant only to arouse the Base of Loyal Patriots. If that’s the case, I’m not offended by the insensitivity born of ignorance as much as the politicization of this tragedy.

    It really doesn’t matter, though. Ms. Palin is ultimately irrelevant.

  11. From my perspective (solely me) the term “blood libel” is simply common usage at this point; it was used quite aptly by Palin, in that just as Jews as a group were unjustly accused by others of killing innocents, so Republicans/conservatives/tea-partiers were unjustly accused by others of inciting Loughner to kill.

  12. What purpose would it serve for most of us not directly involved to dwell on the losses in such a tragedy? Why only to increase the tv ratings and newspaper copies sold, of course!

  13. @Ted: That’s rich. She was dragged into this by baseless accusations made in major media outlets and somehow she is the one politicizing this tragedy? Or are you saying you are offended by the far-fetched connections of the rampage to “tea party rhetoric” posited by Krugman et al.?

    As for the history and usage of the term in media and politics, and the manufactured indignation about Palin’s use of it, see James Taranto’s recent series of pieces in his Best of the Web column.

    And if Palin is “ultimately irrelevant,” why is everyone talking about her?

  14. One little irony of this silly manufactured controversy is that Palin was also criticized for having a small Israeli flag in her office when she was governor of Alaska.

    I am frankly astonished at the level of pure unadulterated hate that spews from most of my liberal friends at the mere mention of Palin’s name. (I live in Austin, a blue dot in a red state.)

    Generally the Palin name generates a loud flow of misogynistic curse words. When they pause for breath I honestly try to find out the source of their deep hatred for this woman. A typical conversation:

    Me: ‘On which specific issues do you disagree with Palin?”

    Friend: ‘Abortion! She wants to outlaw abortion!’

    Me: ‘Has she ever said that?’

    Friend: ‘No, but she does!’

    Me: ‘OK, Palin is part of the half of the country that is uncomfortable with abortions, and doesn’t want her tax dollars paying for them. I’ll give you that. What else?’

    Friend: ‘Ummmmmm she’s an idiot!’

    Me: ‘Why do you say that?’

    Friend: ‘She thinks she can see Russia from her house!’

    Me: ‘That was Tina Fey, What’s an example of an issue on which she has taken an idiotic position?’

    [more curse words, at this point I try to change the subject’]

    I really think many of my lefty friends need to have a daily Two Minute Hate. With Bush retired, Palin is the agreed on target.

    I’m an engineer, not a psychologist, but I detect more than a little projection and envy among my lefty friends towards Governor Palin.

  15. Garry Wills has a blog post on Palin’s speech: “… Palin timed her morning statement on the Tucson tragedy to play against the president’s anticipated speech later that day. The setting and solemnity of her presentation were manipulated to show who could be more ‘presidential,’ she or Obama. That is a measure of her aspirations and arrogance.”

    An interesting comment:

    As with most demagogues, Palin operates under two principles. Free speech for her — including the use of violent rhetoric to criticize others — is one of democracy’s most precious principles. Criticism of her, however, is libel (ie, known to be malicious and false).

    I think what Palin intends by invoking the blood libel isn’t the claim that this is a literal anti-semitic lie. I think instead she’s trying to say that criticism of her rhetoric rises above an ordinary, garden-variety malicious lie — it constitutes a untruth of such magnitude that it rises to the level of a “blood libel.” That is, comparable to lies perpetrated to justify genocide.

    I believe you’re absolutely right about the apocalyptic tone of it all, as well as her portraying herself as a martyr.

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