Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sarah Palin seriously damaged herself yesterday

Yesterday Sarah Palin badly damaged her future political prospects with a very ill-advised response to a national tragedy. Feeling that she had been unfairly accused by many of inciting violence with harsh rhetoric, Palin chose to answer her critics with possibly the nastiest bit of political rhetoric she could think of. Facing criticism for using over-the-top, violent political rhetoric, Palin responded by accusing her critics of manufacturing a "blood libel."

The term "blood libel" describes the rhetoric of anti-semites who historically accused Jews of murdering Christian children in order to use their blood in Jewish religious rituals. As the use of the word "libel" implies, the accusations were false, but they were still terribly harmful, serving as the excuse for centuries of persecution of Jews which culminated in the Holocaust. It was a disastrous choice of words for Palin's future political prospects. Let me count the ways.

First and most obvious was her attempt to hijack the martyrdom of the Jewish people. No matter how Palin and her supporters spin it, being criticized--even unfairly criticized--for overuse of violent political rhetoric is not like being persecuted for being a Jew. And then there was the use of the word "blood" in the wake of the carnage at Tucson. Being criticized is not like being gunned down at a meet-your-congressperson event. There was the overall tone-deafness. The American people were looking for some reassurance that their political discourse wasn't going to descend any further than it has in recent years, instead, as noted above, Palin adopted possibly the nastiest bit of political imagery she and her close advisors could think of. People often talk about the need to "disagree without being disagreeable." Palin doesn't seem to be able to do that: she insists on being disagreeable. Then there was the self-centeredness. At a moment when most Americans were focused on the impact the events in Tucson would have on the American community, Palin's message was "me-me-me." Finally, there was the contrast with President Obama. Obama's response to the tragedy in Tucson was starkly different. You can watch both Palin and Obama and come to your own conclusions on that score.

Is Palin finished? No, she still has relevance as a political celebrity. But her viability as a candidate for serious elective office has probably been exhausted by this affair.

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