Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blood simpleton

Sigh. Sales of Glock pistols are up in Arizona.

In Sarah Palin's remarks in response to Rep. Giffords' shooting, she accused journalists and pundits of manufacturing "a blood libel" when they connected the shooting to her incendiary campaign rhetoric in 2010. In her defense, incendiary rhetoric is the name of the game these days. No matter how unfortunate or chilling or ugly it seems to us now to see those rifle cross-hairs over Rep. Giffords' congressional district, connecting the shooting to Palin is irresponsible---though, I'm sure, irresistible.

The "blood libel" comment, however, is downright bizarre. The NYT's Laurie Goodstein gives a brief summary of the phrase and its roots in anti-semitism. By using the phrase Palin creates a rhetorical liaison between herself and Jews accused of killing children and using their blood for Passover matzoh. Such accusations, for Palin, serve "only to incite the very hatred and violence" it condemns. If you missed the whole thing, here's a CBS sound bite from a YouTube vid (that CBS wouldn't let me embed).

So: Palin compares political action to gun violence and is accused of inciting violence when violence actually happens to a person Palin "targeted" politically. She responds by saying that accusing her of inciting violence incites violence. Not just any violence: the kind of violence directed at Jews over the centuries. This is rank hyperbole.

In other parts of the text, Palin shows her God strategy bona fides by combining Reagan (surprise!), the Founders (shocker!), the obligatory and appropriate call for prayers (for the grieved, the wounded, "our country"), and "God's guidance and the peace he provides." The word "peace" here seems oddly juxtaposed with the "locked and loaded" campaign rhetoric Palin made famous last year. Again, as she says herself in her speech, when politicians speak of taking up arms they're talking about voting, not shooting folks. And yet this event seems to evoke the old parenting saw that "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt."

It is difficult to prove that political rhetoric "incites" anything, but it surely evokes something---powerful emotions, like anger, that help fashion dispositions, beliefs, actions. Perhaps it is naive and irresponsible to connect Palin's rhetoric to the shooting, but it is likewise naive and irresponsible to argue that violent tropes are harmless.


  1. Great write-up. I don't have much to add. You should post on Obama's 30-minute Mourner-in-Chief speech. I promise to pay by commenting four times.

  2. Wasn't it a fantastic speech? It reminded me of Clinton's speech after Columbine. Both presidents are kind of "glass darkly" theologians-in-chief. Commentators throw out "Niebuhrian" to describe Obama's realist political theology.

    I guess it sounds less silly than "Buberian."