Wednesday, January 12 – an odd day. In the morning Sarah Palin released a video about the “blood libel” against her. The notion is, like the Jews through the centuries, accused of mixing the blood of Christian babies to make their matzo or whatever, and then sent to the gas chambers by the millions, she is one of the despised and oppressed – a victim, and the ultimate victim. The Jewish community was not impressed – even Abe Foxman said that might just be a bit over the top. But as Palin implied, this was never really about that congresswoman who was shot, it was always about how angry America should be that some question the wisdom and general awesomeness of Sarah Palin.
And the same morning a gun manufacturer started etching the words “You LIE!” on guns in production – the words of Joe Wilson from the State of the Union thing last year. And so it goes.
For details you can read USA Today:
A South Carolina gun company is reportedly selling a rifle component inscribed with the words “you lie” in tribute to Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Obama. The Palmetto State Armory is selling a commemorative part for an AR-15 in honor of Wilson, who shouted “you lie” as Obama addressed Congress about health care. …
There’s more, but you get the idea, and the same evening Obama gave the Tucson Speech:
President Obama offered the nation’s condolences on Wednesday to the victims of the shootings here, calling on Americans to draw a lesson from the lives of the fallen and the actions of the heroes, and to usher in a new era of civility in their honor.
The president directly confronted the political debate that erupted after the rampage, urging people of all beliefs not to use the tragedy to turn on one another. He did not cast blame on Republicans or Democrats, but asked people to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.”
It was one of the more powerful addresses that Mr. Obama has delivered as president, harnessing the emotion generated by the shock and loss from Saturday’s shootings to urge Americans “to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully” and to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
It was a day of contrasts, and on the Palin matter there’s The Caucus:
Sarah Palin, who had been silent for days, issued a forceful denunciation of her critics on Wednesday in a video statement that accused pundits and journalists of “blood libel” in what she called their rush to blame heated political rhetoric for the shootings in Arizona.
“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own” Ms. Palin said in a seven-and-a-half minute video posted to her Facebook page. “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 that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
Think about the logic, as one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers certainly does:
1. “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.”
2. “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.”
In the first statement, she is saying that you can’t incite people to violence, they stand on their own. The second statement, however, makes the opposite claim (that you can incite people to violence).
Well yeah, there’s that, and what is reported at The Caucus about the blood-libel business:
That false claim was circulated for centuries to incite anti-Semitism and justify violent pogroms against Jews. Ms. Palin’s use of the phrase in her video, which helped make it rapidly go viral, is itself attracting criticism, not least because Ms. Giffords, who remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital, is Jewish.
Reaction to Ms. Palin’s video was swift. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, who is a close friend of Ms. Giffords, issued a statement condemning her use of the phrase “blood libel.”
“Palin’s comments either show a complete ignorance of history, or blatant anti-Semitism,” said Jonathan Beeton, Ms. Wasserman Shultz’s spokesman. “Either way, it shows an appalling lack of sensitivity given Representative Giffords’s faith and the events of the past week.”
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement that, in part, came to Ms. Palin’s defense. “It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder,” Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said in a statement. “Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks.” But Mr. Foxman added that “we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood-libel.'” He called it a phrase “fraught with pain in Jewish history.”
There’s much more, and elsewhere Josh Marshall offered this – “Today has been set aside to honor the victims of the Tucson massacre. And Sarah Palin has apparently decided she’s one of them.”
And another of Sullivan’s readers offered this – “I think it is clear that we Jews owe Sarah Palin an apology. For centuries, we have had the temerity to compare our suffering to Hers.”
You can decide who is more presidential here, and Salon’s Joan Walsh had much more to say on that:
I don’t know what’s worse: That Sarah Palin knew the term “blood libel” has historically been a cornerstone of anti-Semitism (it specifically refers to the gruesome lie that Jews murdered Christian babies to use their blood in matzoh) or that she’s so ignorant she didn’t know what “blood libel” meant.
I am honestly not sure which is true, but I know one thing, having watched her atrocious, tone-deaf, all-about-me video: Sarah Palin will never be president of the United States.
The narcissism required, on a day the nation is commemorating the Arizona shooting victims, to put her own sense of victimhood front and center, is stunning.
But that’s not the only thing wrong that was a bit off-center:
Hilariously, after all the times she’s mocked President Obama for using a teleprompter, you can see a teleprompter screen reflected in her eyeglasses throughout much of her Facebook chat. Seeing the flickering teleprompter in her eyes is eerie; it’s where some flicker of her soul should be, but you don’t see any. Looking into Palin’s eyes, you see a blazing, self-pitying anger that’s shocking, even for the self-described “pit bull in lipstick.”
But Walsh concedes that Palin delights in shocking us all, and this was more of the same:
She’ll rally her friends to her side and further alienate those who already hate her, but she may add new people to the latter group. Her friends are already circling the wagons: On Twitter this morning, the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez defended Palin and said “‘blood libel in purest sense of the phrase’ is how one political insider approvingly spoke of Palin’s use of the phrase to me this morning.”
In the purest sense of the phrase? Really? “Blood libel” in the purest sense can’t possibly have anything to do with the criticism Palin has experienced since the Tucson shooting.
But Walsh notes that at least one Jew has defended Palin:
Alan Dershowitz, who’s already proven he’s happy to flout Jewish social teaching by defending torture, said he’s fine with her use of the term. But many Jewish groups, from the liberal J Street to the often conservative Anti-Defamation League, have criticized Palin’s use of the hateful term.
Still Walsh wishes to be clear:
I’m not making the case here that Palin is anti-Semitic (although it’s interesting that one of her first advisors was Fred Malek, the guy who counted the number of Jews in the Nixon administration…). More than any other American president, Palin reminds me of Richard Nixon, who rode a coalition of resentment and grievance to the presidency. Nixon had his own deep well of self-pity, immortalized in his famous “last” speech in 1962, where he promised, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” But Nixon also learned from his loss to John F. Kennedy and the reaction to his “last” speech to project more leadership and less anger and bitterness. Palin hasn’t learned anything since she lost her campaign for the vice presidency in 2008, except how to “reload” on her enemies after criticism. …
Americans won’t forget that while Giffords and other shooting victims were still hospitalized, Palin was tending to her own psychic wounds. So very petty, so hugely unpresidential.
As for the president’s speech, NBC/MSNBC had a thorough rundown with video clips and the full text:
In an appeal for national unity and soul-searching after the Tucson shootings, President Barack Obama on Wednesday night urged Americans to “expand our moral imaginations” and “sharpen our instincts for empathy” – even with those who are political adversaries. “What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other,” he declared in a speech that was frequently interrupted by applause and cheers from the audience.
And there were the key elements:
Using the shootings to address the nation’s spiritual state, the president decried the small-minded nature of political debate. “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.”
At a time when “we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do,” Obama said, the killings should make Americans ask themselves “Have we shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to people in our lives?”
He referred to the people killed on Saturday as members of “an American family, 300 million strong.” And he added, “Let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost,” he said.
It was like Boston in 2004 – same guy, same message, and the same reaction. People ate it up.
In fact, this was odd:
In her remarks earlier in the memorial service, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer thanked Obama for coming to Arizona. “Your words have been a source of comfort and strength to every Arizonan. Your presence today serves as a reminder that we are not alone in our sorrow.”
“This state, bound together by prayer and action and hope and faith, will not be shredded by one madman’s act of darkness,” she said.
And then she slipped out back and slit the throats of twenty Hispanic four-year-olds, so her own base wouldn’t shoot her.
No, not really – but it was odd. Jan Brewer is no Sarah Palin, who wouldn’t have missed that chance to slyly mock Obama. Jan Brewer is not running for president, of course.
And Joan Walsh has a companion piece to her comments on Palin-in-the-Morning, as the evening was everything the morning wasn’t:
The event billed as a memorial service for victims of the Tucson massacre turned into what critics called a “pep rally,” with cheering and hooting and hollering crowds. I don’t understand what bothered people, because it was clear to me from the start: The University of Arizona crowd was celebrating the heroism that was on display last Saturday, when ordinary people became heroes and saved lives. And they were cheering the very idea of America.
There it was, folks, Saturday morning and again Wednesday night: our country, as good as it gets. Remember how great it looked and felt and sounded, when things inevitably get ugly again. Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor, now retired, sat admiringly next to Daniel Hernandez Jr., the 20-year-old Gabrielle Giffords intern who helped save her life Saturday (who happens to be gay and Mexican American). Attorney General Eric Holder was side by side with Gov. Jan Brewer, whose racial profiling law he’s fighting.
And there were the odd details:
The service began with an Indian blessing from Dr. Carlos Gonzales, who described his mother as Mexican, his father as a Yaqui survivor of “genocide,” and his son as a soldier in Afghanistan, who praised “this great country, where a poor barrio kid from the south side of Tucson could get an education at a fine institution like the University of Arizona – and then, even better, come back and teach here.”
Like it or not, that’s American history: we are imperfect, descended from people who took land from Indians and Mexicans and who held slaves, but also from people who fought for equal rights for everyone, and who, over time, managed to create laws and values and customs that (mostly) do that. Daniel Hernandez began his speech with the words “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one – and even if it’s not an ideal we always live up to, it’s the best idea we’ve ever had as a nation. President Obama delivered what I think was his best speech ever, but for a while Wednesday night, Hernandez stole the show, reminding us “what defines us is not difference…we are all Americans,” and rejecting the label “hero,” since he said, “The real heroes are those who have dedicated their lives to public service.” Obama correctly differed with Hernandez, congratulating him as a hero for helping to save Giffords’ life.
Well, there’s been a lot of discussion on the right that our country’s motto is “In God We Trust” – not that “E Pluribus Unum” crap. You can follow that here – E Pluribus Unum is the motto found on the Great Seal, proposed by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1776, but it was never put into law by Congress – and In God We Trust was designated the official national motto by an act of Congress in 1956 – and the Congressional Prayer Caucus is ticked off at Obama and those to the left of them using that Latin fake motto, because Obama and those folks hate Jesus or something. Screw unity and community – go with God, as some people shouldn’t be included. Jesus hates unity. Everyone knows that. And back in 1956 Congress settled that matter.
But Walsh notes that Obama resisted partisanship, “making good on his oft-repeated promise to be the president of all of America, even the segment of the country that didn’t vote for him.”
Yeah, he’s funny that way. And he did offer this warning:
At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to blame all that ails our world, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, and not in a way that wounds….
What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility, rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame. Let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imagination… to sharpen our instincts for empathy, to remind us of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
He’s been saying that since Boston, of course. Obama told Americans shocked by the killings in Arizona that, in his words, “we can be better.” And he didn’t say anyone was picking on him. That’s Palin stuff.
And Time’s Joe Klein said this:
It was a remarkably personal speech, effortlessly sweeping away any notion of pomposity, over-intellectuality or distance. It was written and delivered in plain English. It summoned images, and emotions, that every American – even those who cannot countenance his legitimacy – could relate to and be moved by. His description of the victims was at the heart of it. Judge Roll went to mass every day. George and Dot Morris had a 50-year honeymoon. Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard lost their teenaged love and then regained it many years later. Phyllis Schneck sat quilting under her favorite tree. We all know them – and we know people like Daniel Hernandez, big and loyal and kindly, who would have stopped a bullet to save his boss, but saved her instead by tending to her wounds and begging her to hold on. Their ordinary decency, simply evoked, made the tragedy our own. Their simple nobility beggared the absurd screech of the debate surrounding this terrible event. His appreciation of their humanity was an appreciation of our own.
And in summoning the community and the nation and the Congresswoman that Christine Taylor Green imagined we are, he summoned for us the country that we should be. On this night, certainly, he was the President she – and we – imagined he might be. On this night, finally, he became President of all the people. It was a privilege to behold.
But what about Sarah Palin here – what is she, chopped liver? People have been picking on her.
Ezra Klein takes care of that:
Imagine if Palin had come out and said, “My initial response was to defend the fact that I had never condoned such violence, and never would. But the fact is, if I in any way contributed to an unhealthy political climate, I have to be more careful and deliberate in my public language rather than merely sharpen my defenses.” That would’ve been leadership: It would have made her critics look small, and it would’ve made her look big.
And see Andrew Sullivan:
One would have thought that Palin, like any responsible person in her shoes right now, could have mustered some sort of regret about the unfortunate coincidence of what she had done in the campaign and what happened afterwards. Wouldn’t you? If you had publicly defended a map with cross-hairs on a congresswoman’s district, and that congresswoman had subsequently been shot, would you not be able to express even some measure of regret at what has taken place, even while denying, rightly, any actual guilt? Could you not even acknowledge the possibility that your critics have and had a point, including the chief Palin-critic on this, who happens to be struggling for her life in hospital, Gabrielle Giffords?
But no. That would require acknowledging misjudgment. Palin cannot acknowledge misjudgment, as she cannot admit error. It would require rising to an occasion, rather than sinking to it. And to moderate that tone, to acknowledge that one can make an error – to defend oneself from unfair accusations while acknowledging the need for a calmer discourse in future – this is beyond her.
It is, of course, also her strategy. She can only win in a hugely polarized country. She has as little support outside the Republican base as she has a cult following within it. And she has decided that this occasion for introspection is actually an opportunity to double down.
There is something menacing about that.
But that was the morning. That was all blown away, like dark clouds in a stiff breeze after a storm, by the evening. Sunrise, sunset, swiftly go the days… You don’t even have to be Jewish to understand that song.