With the Tucson shootings clearly demonstrating the need to tone down violent and hateful political rhetoric that has created a toxic atmosphere, leave it to one of its worst perpetrators, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to not only refuse to change course but to also falsely portray herself as a victim, while planting her foot firmly in her mouth.
Palin had previously posted a map on her Facebook page in which the districts of 20 Democratic House members targeted for defeat, including that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), shot in the head and seriously wounded in Tucson, were placed in the crosshairs of a gunsight. Paln also tweeted at the time, “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” While the map was removed after the shootings, last week Palin posted a video on her Facebook page in which she not only refused to tone down her inflammatory and eliminationist rhetoric, but claimed to be a victim of the “liberal media,” saying, “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.”
What is really reprehensible is Palin twisting the facts in claiming to be a victim, denying awareness of the potential consequences of her vitriolic rhetoric, refusing to take responsibility for the toxic political environment she has helped to bring about, and her disgusting failure to understand the meaning of the term “blood libel,” which means far more than just a false accusation. A blood libel is the long-standing anti-Semitic lie that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood for religious rituals. In the past, this falsehood was used as a pretext to murder thousands of innocent Jews in Europe.
Though conservatives falsely claim otherwise, violent and eliminationist rhetoric is almost entirely a product of the right. While liberals such as Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann treat conservatives to caustic remarks and mockery, right wingers pander to vitriolic hatred for their opponents. Thus, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has urged her constituents to be “armed and dangerous”; the talk shows of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly include jokes about shooting government officials and beheading a Washington Post journalist; Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle talked about “Second Amendment remedies”; radio talk show host Joyce Kaufman said, “If ballots don’t work, bullets will”; and the passage of modest health care reform was greeted with cries of tyranny, talk of armed resistance, and thousands of signs on the National Mall reading, “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy.”
Most see past the incendiary rhetoric, but some can’t, and this is where the threat of violence arises. It becomes akin to shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
Having put her foot in her mouth with her twisted misuse of the term “blood libel,” Palin is under intense pressure to apologize. Don’t hold your breath, for it is not the right wing way to admit to being wrong about anything, even when it’s painfully obvious. Political disagreements are part of the nature of the beast, but they should be addressed by sticking to the issues and avoiding personal attacks. Unfortunately, when political advantage can be seen in appealing to the worst in the base, it’s become no-holds-barred, and a cowardly Republican establishment treats this pandering with respect, if not deference. We need only guess the next time when this toxic environment will provoke political violence.