It’s too bad we have to write this editorial. We had hoped that once Sarah Palin realized the true context of the term “blood libel,” she would excuse herself for using it and that would be that.
But she didn’t. Instead, she stubbornly and, somewhat arrogantly, defended it.
“Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands, and in this case that’s exactly what was going on,” Palin told Sean Hannity in an interview Monday on Fox News.
You may recall, Palin first defended herself against criticism in the mainstream media that a map on her website that used images of gun crosshairs to indicate districts targeted in last year’s midterm elections helped lead to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several others in Tucson on Jan. 8.
In that video statement, Palin said, “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. That is reprehensible.”
As Jews know, blood libel means much more than an accusation. It was the historic canard that led to countless pogroms throughout Europe and the death and destruction within so many Jewish settlements. Palin’s use of the term was inappropriate. She should have said so.
But for the record, the Tucson shooting spree was not Palin’s fault. We still don’t know what went on in the deranged mind of Jared Lee Loughner, and there’s blame enough being passed out to both Democrats and Republicans.
The Forward wrote in this week’s editorial, “to categorically state that the tenor of public discourse and the coarseness of public culture had no role to play whatsoever … is outrageous and must be refuted. Yes, individuals are ultimately responsible for their actions. But also yes: A society that extols fighting words, celebrates violent imagery and, most importantly, allows guns in the hands of the mentally ill, shares responsibility, too.”
This is true; a society in which over-aggressive and even violent (Palin’s phrase “Don’t retreat. Reload” comes to mind) rhetoric is accepted is not a healthy society. But, like the unfounded claims that Marilyn Manson’s music pushed teens to shoot up Columbine, placing the blame for one person’s evil actions on the message or rhetoric of another is wrong.
Still, to express regret over taking part in that atmosphere of incivility is a move we wish Palin had made.
We had hoped she might follow the example of U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who named Palin his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. In his recent Washington Post op-ed, McCain praised President Obama’s speech in Tucson following the shootings, defended the president’s patriotism and expressed regret for some of his own past statements.
That led MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann, who criticized, not only Palin, right-wing talk show hosts and Obama, but himself as well for the ratcheting up the political climate in this country, to say this:
“One individual assumed any personal responsibility for any of it, besides me: John McCain. … It’s me and John McCain.”
Well, we don’t know about that, but many of us have shared in the rhetorical war gripping this country. As we have said before, the angry dialogue enveloping us will not stop until we the people stop it.
Until then, let’s avoid the loaded words that inflame the debate even more.